Rob Stary: 'Terror laws used to criminalise supporters of self-determination'

Friday, May 18, 2007

On May 7, the Melbourne Magistrates Court denied bail to two men arrested under "anti-terror" laws for raising funds for tsunami relief in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.

Defence lawyer Rob Stary told Green Left Weekly that Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan had been remanded "in jail having been charged with resourcing, funding and supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE]. [They have not] been involved in any violence. They say they were doing nothing other than collecting humanitarian aid … The Sri Lankan government is not dispersing aid in the Tamil areas."

The May 18 Australian reported that further charges for the same alleged offences had been laid against the pair under the Charter of the UN Act (1945).

An application for a new bail hearing has been lodged with the Supreme Court, which Stary hopes will be heard in the next two weeks. However, it was an "uphill battle to get bail" in any case where allegations terrorism have been invoked.

Stary explained that at the time of the alleged offence, there was a "peace process brokered by Norway" underway. "The LTTE is not proscribed in Australia or Sri Lanka", he said. "Even the Sri Lankan government recognises that there is civil war", and that the LTTE is the de facto civil authority in the north and east of the island.

He described the case as a "further step down the road of criminalising people who support self-determination", with implications for supporters of independence for Palestine, Kosova or Kurdistan. Support for self-determination of their homeland was "overwhelmingly the case amongst the 30,000 strong local Tamil community", he added.

Stary attacked the "anti-terror" laws for their political nature. He said that they were unlikely to be applied against "anyone trying to overthrow the governments of Iran, North Korea, or the Mugabe regime" or anti-Castro Cuban exiles. "It was always going to be the case that the counter-terrorist laws will be selectively applied."

Stary also expressed concern that, as had also happened with other cases involving the anti-terror laws, state and federal authorities had held press conferences before the court appearances of the accused "to try to contaminate the public view … This is a real attack on the presumption of innocence, compromising any chance of a fair trial."

Vinayagamoorthy and Yathavan are being held in "protective custody", a form of solitary confinement Stary described as "one step down" from the conditions in which the "Barwon 13" remandees are being held.

Issue