Tamil 'terrorism' suspects granted bail

Issue 

Two Tamil men, Sivarajah Yathavan and Aruran Vinayagamoorthy, who were arrested in Melbourne in May under the "anti-terrorism" laws, were granted bail by Justice Bernard Bongiorno on July 17.

Following Bongiorno's decision, Victorian chief magistrate Ian Gray granted bail to Arumugam Rajeevan, who had been arrested in Sydney on July 10 and extradited to Melbourne.

The three men have been charged with being members of a terrorist organisation, providing support or resources to a terrorist organisation, and making funds available to a terrorist organisation.

The "terrorist organisation" in question is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an organisation that has waged an armed struggle since the 1970s for an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The LTTE took up arms after decades of peaceful protests by Tamils had been met by the Sinhala-dominated government in Colombo with repeated acts of violent repression.

In December 2001, the Colombo government entered into political negotiations with the LTTE, signing a Norwegian government-mediated cease-fire with the it in March 2002. The cease-fire broke down in 2005.

In May 2000, the BBC described that LTTE as "well-trained" fighting force of "around 10,000 men and women, who use artillery, surface-to-air missiles and rocket launchers". In recent years, the LTTE has also used light boats and aircraft to conduct sea and air attacks on the Sri Lankan military.

Yathavan, Vinayagamoorthy and Rajeevan have been active for many years in Tamil community organisations in Australia, campaigning peacefully for the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka. They deny being members of the LTTE.

In announcing his decision on bail, Bongiorno warned against political interference with the criminal justice system. This was widely interpreted as a reference to the actions of immigration minister Kevin Andrews, who in effect overturned a Queensland magistrate's decision to grant bail to another alleged supporters of terrorism, Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef, by revoking Haneef's visa and placing him in immigration detention.

The federal government cannot use the same tactic on the three Tamils as they are Australian citizens. However, federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to examine whether Bongiorno's decision could be appealed in a higher court.

Siva Sivakumar, the president of the Eelam Tamil Association (Victoria), told Green Left Weekly that Australia's Tamil community is "very happy the judicial process has been allowed to take its course without political interference".

Sivakumar did not wish to comment on particular's of three men's cases, except to criticise the Australian government for using "evidence" supplied by the Sri Lankan government. He said that "asking the Sri Lankan authorities to supply evidence about the LTTE is like asking Robert Mugabe to give a character reference for Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai".