Deported Tamil man harassed by security forces in Sri Lanka

The Tamil Refugee Council released this statement on February 28.

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A former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) deported under duress from Australia on February 22 is being harassed and intimidated, along with his family, by the Sri Lankan state.

Santharuban was handed over to Sri Lankan authorities at Bandaranaike airport, Colombo, where he was questioned for about four hours.

He claims that, prior to departing Australia, he had refused to sign a deportation document, but Border Force agents threatened to handcuff him, tape his mouth shut and drag him onto a plane. Santharuban signed the document out of fear for his safety and was put on a flight, accompanied by two guards.

Since being questioned in Colombo, he has been visited twice by state security officers. According to Santharuban’s representative, human rights lawyer K.S. Ratnavale, two men from the Point Pedro naval camp, Jaffna, came to his residence on Monday asking seemingly innocuous questions, which he had answered in Colombo.

On February 27, two different men came. This time, they took the details of Santharuban’s wife and children, including the school they attend.

“His wife is distraught. She is wondering whether it is safe to return home,” Ratnavale said.

“This is a clear attempt at intimidation and harassment,” said Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam. “The security forces are trying to intimidate not only Santharuban but his family as well. Such visits strike deep fears in Tamils, who continue to face assault, torture and disappearance at the hands of the Criminal Investigation Department (known as CID), the Special Task Force and other sections of the police and military.

“The situation was entirely predictable and highlights the callous indifference of the Australian government in deporting Santharuban in the first place. The culture of reprisal in the security forces runs deep. Returned Tamils, particularly those associated with the LTTE, face dangers that have been well-documented by the UN and human rights groups.”

Amnesty International’s latest Annual Report was published on 22 February. It notes of the situation in Sri Lanka in 2017: “The authorities continued to detain Tamils suspected of links to the LTTE under the PTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act], which permitted extended administrative detention and shifted the burden of proof to a detainee alleging torture or other ill-treatment…

“Reports of torture and other ill-treatment in detention continued. In March, Sri Lanka’s human rights record was examined ... the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka said that it had continued to document widespread incidents of violence against detainees, including torture and other ill-treatment, which it described as ‘routine’ and practised throughout the country, mainly by police. The Special Rapporteur … found that 80% of those arrested under the PTA in late 2016 had complained of torture and other ill-treatment.”

The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the Australian government to end deportations of Tamil asylum seekers and grant permanent protection to those held in detention and those living in uncertainty in the community.

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