| Aubrey Belford |
BUKIT MERTAJAM, Malaysia (Reuters) – Abul Kassim, a Rohingya asylum seeker, was snatched from his home in the northern Malaysian state of Penang on January 12. The next morning, his beaten and bloodied body was found.
That day, police moved on the 40-year-old’s alleged killers. Raiding a house in the neighbouring state of Kedah, they rescued 17 Rohingya migrants being held against their will, according to a statement by Penang police.
Eight alleged traffickers from Malaysia, Myanmar and Bangladesh were arrested.
The murder of Abul Kassim casts rare light on what Rohingya activists say is widespread abuse by human traffickers in Malaysia, who are willing to use extreme methods to protect their lucrative but illegal business.
Abul Kassim regularly supplied police with information on the activities of traffickers, said Abdul Hamid, president of the Kuala Lumpur-based Rohingya Society in Malaysia.
Since 2012, more than 100,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have fled violence and poverty in Myanmar. Most travel in traffickers’ boats to Thailand, where they are held by traffickers in squalid jungle camps before a ransom is paid.
Relatively wealthy Malaysia to the south is the destination for most Rohingya who flee. For some, it is far from safe.
Relatives and witnesses told Reuters of three abductions in Penang in 2013 and 2014, from a home, a coffee shop and the street. In addition, a Rohingya man was confined and tortured after being brought by traffickers through Thailand.
Three of the four cases ended in murder, they said.
Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based rights group, documented another three suspected killings of Rohingya by traffickers last year.
Banned from legally working and fearful of police harassment, few victims bring their case to authorities. Those who do say police have taken little action.
Confirming cases is difficult. Local media give the issue little coverage and Penang state police did not respond to further questions about Abul Kassim’s killing. National police spokeswoman Asmawati Ahmad did not reply to Reuters’ questions on that case or other suspected Rohingya murders.
Interviewed by Reuters in late 2014, Penang police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi denied traffickers had killed any Rohingya in the state that year.
Police quoted in the local media said Abul Kassim’s killing was likely to be connected to a money dispute.
A Kuala Lumpur-based Rohingya leader, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said quantifying crimes was difficult due to the power and reach of traffickers in northern Malaysia.
“If we try to get information about the traffickers, they will simply target the person who tries to get information. We are not safe,” he said.