Tamil Three get suspended sentences

April 10, 2010

Three Tamil men in Victoria have been given suspended sentences after pleading guilty to charges of providing money or resources to a group on the United Nations list of proscribed "terrorist" organisations.

The group in question was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought for 30 years for the right of self-determination for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Tamils face oppression by the racist Sri Lankan government.

Aruran Vinayagamoorthy received a two-year suspended jail term. Arumugan Rajeevan and Sivarajah Yathavan received one-year suspended terms.

The three were arrested in 2007. They were initially charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation and giving money or resources to a terrorist organisation, but these charges were later dropped. The three were released on bail after spending more than two months in jail.

The three men had been active in raising funds for the relief effort in north-eastern Sri Lanka after the December 2004 tsunami. At that time, much of north-eastern Sri Lanka was under the control of the LTTE, which was the de facto government of a significant part of the island.

The three said taking aid to these areas required working with the LTTE. At the time, there was a ceasefire in the war.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) launched the investigation at the request of the Sri Lankan government, which was preparing to end the ceasefire and wanted to cut off aid from the Tamil diaspora to the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka lobbied the Australian government to declare the LTTE a terrorist organisation, as the United States and European Union had done. However, this did not happen.

Since the LTTE had not been officially declared a terrorist organisation in Australia, the prosecution planned to prove in court that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation by calling Sri Lankan government witnesses.

This plan was dropped when it became clear the defence would be able to challenge the credibility of the witnesses. Hence the most serious charges were dropped, though the UN listing of the LTTE as "terrorist" enabled a lesser charge to be upheld.

The trial judge, Paul Coghlan, was highly critical of the AFP over the arrest of Rajeevan at gunpoint and the denial of access to a lawyer during his initial questioning.

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