Pastor Raymond Koh was walking to his car outside his house in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia on February 13, 2017 when he was abducted by more than a dozen people. Koh remains missing to this day, and there is reason to believe his kidnapping was orchestrated by the Malaysian government. His wife, Susanna Liew, has worked tirelessly to find him and to put pressure on the Malaysian government to tell the truth about his case. Now, Liew is being recognized for her efforts by the U.S. government.
“In April 2019, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) concluded that Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat were the victims of ‘enforced disappearance by state agents,’” the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia notes.
Liew calls the ordeal she has gone through during the last three years of her husband’s absence “frozen grief.” Since she doesn’t know if Koh is alive or not, she cannot properly grieve. However, Liew says “I need to be strong for my children and…as I speak about these cases of ‘enforced disappearance,’ it also helps to heal me. As I help others, then I don’t think so much about myself.”
Susanna Liew Honored as International Woman of Courage
In addition to her husband’s case, Liew has also taken up the cause of other religious leaders in her country that have gone missing. For her efforts, Liew has been named an International Woman of the Year in 2020 by the Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards. The honor is given by the U.S. Department of State.
The U.S. Embassy in Malaysia writes “following her husband’s abduction, Susanna has fought tirelessly on behalf of religious minorities who disappeared under similar circumstances.” Additionally, Liew continues to receive death threats and harassment from police officers. Malaysia’s official religion is Islam, and government offices are largely held by Muslims. However, Malaysia does have a robust community of evangelical Christians. The nation, at one time a British colony, is also home to a significant population Chinese and Indians, many of whom adhere to other faiths besides Islam. Despite the ethnic and religious diversity present in this country, though, there is a strict law against proselytizing to Malaysia’s ethnic Malay people group. This law has landed some evangelical Christians in prison, or worse.
Liew Travels to U.S. to Receive IWOC Award
On its website, U.S. Department of States gives some background behind the International Women of Courage award:
Now in its 14th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Since the inception of this award in March 2007, the Department of State has recognized 134 women from 73 countries. This year will bring the total to 146 awardees from 77 countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.
Liew is among 11 other nominees hailing from nations in Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. The women were honored on Wednesday in Washington D.C. at a ceremony hosted by the Department of State. First Lady Melania Trump attended the ceremony The women are currently visiting various cities throughout the U.S. before reconvening in Los Angeles on March 16, 2020 for the conclusion of their trip.
In addition to attending the award ceremony, Liew met with the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback.
Also was pleased to meet with Susanna Liew, who was honored yesterday alongside other International #WomenofCourage. She’s worked tirelessly, advocating for religious freedom in #Malaysia & for victims of enforced disappearances, including her husband Raymond Koh & Amri Che Mat. pic.twitter.com/ezhKCCv2oP
— Ambassador Sam Brownback (@IRF_Ambassador) March 5, 2020
Liew Believes Pastor Koh Is Still Alive
Speaking to a Radio Mindanao Network after the awards ceremony, Liew said there has been little progress on her husband’s case. “The police have been really quiet and have not updated the family.”
In 2004, Liew and her husband founded a nonprofit organization, Hope Community, that works with the poor, needy and marginalized. Before starting Hope Community, Koh served as a pastor of an Evangelical Free Church in Malaysia. Liew previously served as the principal of a kindergarten. Liew and Koh have two adult daughters.
Liew is quick to acknowledge those who have helped her during these nightmarish three years. “I find my courage from my faith in God. Also from the support of my friends and church and the society. Many people came to stand in solidarity with me during this time–lawyers, civil society activists. They helped me to voice what I couldn’t voice.” Liew says she has found the courage to help others now because she understands what they are going through.
When asked if she thinks her husband is still alive, Liew says yes. She believes that Koh is being detained somewhere. “My family and I have dreams about him,” she says.