30 Apr 2013

Why One Man Fled Sri Lanka

By Trevor Grant

Bob Carr says the Sri Lankan Government doesn't commit torture. A Melbourne refugee who claims he was brutally tortured by Sri Lankan officials this month disagrees, writes Trevor Grant

I have spent the past week helping a Melbourne man who was brutally tortured in Sri Lanka, not in the last decade, not last year, not even last month.

Only two weeks ago “Kumar”, a 35-year-old father of three who has lived and worked in Melbourne for the past three years, says he was convinced his life was at an end as he lay naked and face-down on a table, his hands and feet bound by wire, in a room outside Colombo.

When his captors – men he believes worked for Sri Lankan Government intelligence – took off his blindfold after taking him from the streets late at night, he saw walls splattered with blood and a concrete floor littered with torn women's underwear.

At varying intervals, he says, his interrogators would arrive to bash him on the body and feet with wooden poles, to insert ice cubes into his anus and to crush his testicles with their hands. He says after they inserted ice cubes for a third time he fainted.

When he first arrived in this room he noticed there was a gas stove against one wall and that there was a  bucket in the corner, containing several metal rods.

On the fourth day of his interrogation, he discovered why they had these implements at the ready. Firstly, they would heat up the iron rods on the gas stove, then they would smash them across his back, inflicting horrific burns and severe damage to discs in his spine.

Kumar told me his story last week, speaking in a whisper while curled up in a ball in chair at his home in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Beside him, his wife choked back her tears as she listened to the sordid details. A friend kept the three children playing outside to protect them from this horror story about their Dad.

Kumar came to my notice, six days after he returned from Sri Lanka. A doctor who treated him in Melbourne contacted the Tamil Refugee Council, where I do voluntary work.

He said he had initially fled Sri Lanka after being questioned, and beaten, by intelligence police over his involvement in carrying parcels for the Tamil Tigers during the war in 2006. He said he was a school bus driver and the Tigers had paid him to do the job. He said he had no idea what was in the parcels. But he believes he was “dobbed in” by one of the men to whom he delivered the parcels when the man was caught by intelligence police. His first experience of interrogation Sri Lanka-style made him realise he had to escape the country, and fast.

He had started a new life here on a student visa, completing a course as a chef, before getting a job in a restaurant in the inner suburbs and securing a 457 visa, a stepping stone, he hoped, to permanent residency.

His wife and daughters had arrived and settled with him in Melbourne last year. Life was gathering momentum for him and his family, until he headed to Sri Lanka back to help at his uncle’s restaurant.

He had returned to Sri Lanka from his new Australian home three times previously without attracting notice, mainly because he had stayed at the family home most of the time. This time, though, he was front of house in the restaurant, meaning he was visible. “It was a restaurant where a lot of big shots went, so they obviously got to know I was there,” Kumar said.

One night he was riding home from the restaurant on his motor bike with his brother when he was stopped by men with guns. He said they identified themselves as intelligence police. They put a gun to his head, blindfolded him, tied his hands and deposited him into a van. Twenty minutes later the blindfold was untied.

Throughout this four-day ordeal, he was constantly asked to confirm he was a member of the Tamil Tigers, the group who fought a civil war against the Sri Lankan government for almost three decades, until it was wiped out in 2009. He says he kept on saying he wasn’t a Tiger, because it was the truth.

After being burnt and bashed with the iron bars on the final day, he heard a man say in Tamil that they were now going to finish him off. He said he was on the floor, grabbing the leg of one of the men, begging them not to kill him. “If it wasn’t for my wife and children I wouldn’t have wanted to live through this. But I had to stay alive for them,” he told me.

They insisted he sign a document. He thinks it was to do with the Tamil Tigers. Soon after he signed, he was blindfolded, lodged in a van, driven for 20 minutes before being dumped on the roadside around midnight.

He would later learn that his uncle had discovered his predicament and had paid a bribe to have him released. Bribes were also paid, through an agent, to get him through the airport and out of the country.

He says he went to Customs at Melbourne Airport upon his arrival to ask for asylum, which he had been advised to do by a fellow-passenger who had noticed he couldn’t put his back against the seat in the plane and asked why. “I almost fainted when I was at Customs. I wanted to show them my wounds but they said they were not interested. They told me to find a lawyer,” he said.

It has been a chilling experience to see the firsthand evidence of the evil ways of the Sri Lankan Government. What has been as devastating is the realisation that my own government actively engages with, and thus defends, the men responsible for these things.

It is a terrifying thought that our elected representatives engage with a regime that authorised torture and rape, all to relieve the political pressure of asylum-seeker boats coming to our shores.

They cannot keep saying, as Foreign Minister Bob Carr has done, that they don’t know this torture happens. Too many reports by too many respected agencies have documented similar occurrences for too long. Now the evidence is here in our own backyard..

Will it loosen Carr’s enthusiastic embrace of the Rajapaksa regime or will he shrug off Kumar’s story?

When I looked at those hideous scars on Kumar’s back and watched him hobble like a man twice his age to go to the bathroom this week, I wished for one thing; that Carr could have been there to see it, too.

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Tom McLoughlin
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 14:08

It's an interesting exercise holding the compelling nature of the above evidence with the postures of the Foreign Minister.

To do so one must first achieve a nirvana condition some may refer to as Orwellian double think.

Those of us who witnessed the proud achievements of a then Premier of NSW in 1999-2002 creating multitudes of new national parks, while also implementing the wonder of unprecedented 20 year resource guarantees to private industry for literally millions of tonnes of woodchips via public estate, propping up logging jobs out of koala habitat, endangered fauna and flora, old wet forests, and even designated Aboriginal places ....., well, such followers are well versed in the meditative practise.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. guywire
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 14:26

"Bob Carr says the Sri Lankan Government doesn't commit torture."

Maybe Bob is talking within the same understanding that the USA doesnt commit toture, or we dont commit torture by supporting US Administration in secret torture chambers in Iraq Afghanistan Egypt and Guantanamo. In this sense, of course the Sri Lankan government doesn't commit these atrocities. Yes! we are completely free of torture in the world. With the notable exception of Assad (coincidentally out of favour with the US), who commits terrible atrocities in resisting a just and lasting 'Democracy', not to mention a trade agreement after the dust settles.

In Australia's dawdling drive toward Asianisation of Australia the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' will change places and we will have to consider which warmonger/despot we support and which torture chambers we secretly endorse. But its OK... that decision could be months away and I'm sure that we will secretly choose the good and ethical torturers.

Come back soon Julian Assange.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 17:17

Shocking revelations in this excellent article. Other victims have told similar horrendous stories about  the Tamil Genocide  (see "“The Tamil Genocide by Sri Lanka. The Global Failure to Protect Tamil Rights Under International Law” by Professor Francis Boyle:  http://www.claritypress.com/Boyle-Tamil.html and ABC Four Corners, “Sri Lanka’s killing fields”: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2011/07/04/3257956.htm .

Not surprising that pro-war, pro-Zionist, US lackey Gillard Labor should support the war criminals in Sri Lanka whose success was due in no small part to Apartheid Israeli aircraft and weapons.

What can decent people do? Decent people must (a) inform everyone they can, (b) urge and support boycotts against Sri Lanka and all those, most notoriously the Lib-Labs, who are “soft” on Sri Lankan crimes against humanity.

In particular , decent Australians - utterly  appalled by Australian Government  collaboration with the Sri Lankan intelligence  and security services, support for CHOGM in Sri Lanka, support for the war criminal Sri Lankan Government’s “line” on human rights abuses, return of Tamil refugees to be raped, tortured and murdered  in Sri Lanka, and FM Bob Carr’s obscene pronouncements on Sri Lanka -   will simply vote 1 Green and put Labor last (the Coalition is just as bad but, unlike neoliberal Labor , has not actually betrayed decent Labor voters and Labor ideals).

Betty
Posted Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 00:05

As far as torture is concerned, USA leads the way and gets away with it.  It's a bad example that other countries follow and also get away with it.

K Brown
Posted Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 11:32

Was "Kumar's' 457 visa due to expire?  Had he applied for and been declined permanent residency as many overseas students who undertook catering courses with student visa have? It is passingly strange that he had returned to Sri Lanka three times previously without mishap which underscores the shallowness of Sri Lankan asylum seekers claims.

Faced with imminent return to Sri Lanka did "Kumar" self inflict his injuries to fabricate a claim of torture and thereby establish a claim for refugee status?  People who are desparate to stay in Australia do desparate things.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Marga
Posted Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 13:58

It is a one-sided story.  Can he back it up with evidence?  The Sri Lankan High Commissioner says it has been fabricated.

'Kumar' came on a student visa, doing a Mickey Mouse course, then worked on a 457 visa travelling home frequently, hoping to convert that visa to a permanent one.  But the rules on 457s have changed.   He may have his application denied, and he desperately wants to stay.

Could it be self-inflicted?  Or could it be that he got himself into personal  trouble in his homeland and could not deliver what was expected of him, so they tortured him.

Without a lot more evidence I don't buy that story.

citizenx
Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 - 01:46

The articles on this website about Sri Lanka are unbalanced, hearsay-based articles with a clear agenda to tarnish a country and score political mileage out of it. There is zero journalistic value in them.

When a reader reads, he/she wants to know the positives and the negatives. How can you just relently chase after negatives (whether true, false or highly exaggerated) without mentioning positives?

How about -

  • The government housed and fed 300,000 war displaced who have since now mostly (80%?) been re-settled back in their communities (except for a few areas yet to be de-mined). They were given food, clothing, education as well as career coaching, psychological development, sports and  music equipment, etc. 
  • The first ex-combatant (former LTTE) sportsman will be representing Sri Lanka in the near future.
  • Many ex-combantants have been rehabilitated and released with vocational training. 
  • Rate of economic growth in the North-East (former war torn area with high Tamil population) is triple that of the rest of the country. 
  • Tourism and industries have been greatly developed in the North-East since 2009.
  • Sri Lanka's Per Capita Income went above $2000 two years ago to enter middle-income territory. SInce then, it has climbed to $2930.
  • Sri Lanka is in the top 3 new travel destinations in several international travel magazines including Conde Nast and Lonely Planet.

Here's some important history for you - in 1983, after a small militant Tamil group attacked in killed some Sri Lankan soldiers, the angered largely Sinhala groups sought out and attacked many Tamil people over several days, causing numerous deaths. This is called Black July and is the darkest day in Sri Lanka's history. Many lessons have been learnt since then, and many things have changed. There has never been anything like that since. Many of the loudest expat Tamil critics/activists are those who migrated in 1983 (or their offspring who have been brought up on those stories). 

You need to travel there to see for yourself.

 

 

 

citizenx
Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 - 02:05

Gosh this is such a 'Greens' website (writers and commentors) that I might as well not bother responding.... But sadly junk this is still on the internet.

Consider these facts-

  • Tamil is an official language in Sri Lanka
  • The Sri Lankan flag is the only flag in the world where multiculturalism is highlighted. (Orange strip represents Tamils).
  • Free education is available to ALL in Sinhala or Tamil as they choose.
  • All government signage is in Sinhala and Tamil
  • The capital has a high 33% Tamil population
  • Govt and the main opposition have significant Tamil representation
  • Several key ministries are run by Tamil MPs.
  • There have been recent Mayors of Colombo, Central Bank governers, Chamber heads, Chief justices who are Tamil.
  • There are 2 national holidays to celebrate Hindu religious days
  • Tamils are amongst the 'national heroes' celebrated and taught about.
  • Several leading companies are owned or run by Tamil business leaders. 
  • Tamil sportsmen such as Muralidaran are adored by Sri Lankans.

These are FACTS and not hearsay. Now think, does it make sense that Tamils may also be harassed like it is alleged?

So WHY do we hear all these allegations against Sri Lanka? Its because a group of people are hell bent on carving out a region for themselves. And some who are seeking asylum will make up any story and suffer lashes on their backs in exchange for $$$s (to claim they were abused). 

Then again, just like LTTE agents were caught offering US officials $1m to try to get LTTE de-proscribed (Google it), it can be reasonably assumed that politicians, journalists and some activitis are coerced in various ways

 

Trever, pls go back to writing about cricket... or your vege patch something.