Malaysian pastors' abductions spark fears of crackdown on religious minorities

The string of abductions of Christian pastors in Malaysia has sparked fear among the public that authorities may have launched a crackdown on religious minorities and that those who are caught are subjected to extrajudicial detention.

(REUTERS / Stringer)Onlookers gather as police inspect the damage on the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur January 9, 2010.

Three Christians and another man accused of spreading Shia Islam have disappeared in Malaysia in the last few months, and surveillance footage and witness accounts point to highly organized groups which abducted the said individuals in public. Until now, their families still do not know where they are and human rights activists have noticed the police's unusually "casual" way of handling these cases, The Guardian details.

Suzanna Liew, whose husband Pastor Raymond Koh disappeared on Feb. 13, said it was difficult to say if the government has something to do with the strange abductions of Christians. However, she said that possibility cannot be ruled out.

Aside from Pastor Koh, a Christian couple --- Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth --- went missing in March. Amri Che Mat, who was accused of preaching Shia Islam, was also abducted in November under similar circumstances.

Reacting to the string of abductions in Malaysia, Citizen Action Group on Enforced Disappearance founder Thomas Fann echoed Liew's speculations on the state's involvement in the cases. Both Fann and SUARAM human rights group executive director Sevan Doraisamay also believe that the four were taken by a professional criminal gang or have become victims of extrajudicial detention.

"We say that there is a high probability there have been enforced disappearances, which means that the state may be directly or indirectly involved," said Fann in a statement. "We have a reason to believe that there is a relationship because they are all faith-based workers."

Last month, national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar announced that a man has been detained in connection with Pastor Koh's abduction. He said the man may be relevant to the investigation into the case and assured the public that they have not stopped trying to locate the missing pastor, The Straits Times reports.

Abu Bakar also cautioned activists and other parties against accusing authorities of having links with Pastor Koh's abduction. He said one must not throw around serious allegations if they are not backed with evidence.