The Sri Lankan government has expanded its offensive against critics at home and abroad, officially proscribing Tamil activists around the world as terrorists and threatening any of its citizens who co-operate with a UN war crimes’ investigation.
The government last week released a list of 16 Tamil organisations and 400 Tamil individuals it has designated as terrorists. Anyone connected with these groups or any of the individuals can be arrested under the country’s Prevention of Terrorism Act if they travel to Sri Lanka.
The Australian Tamil Congress, which acts as a political lobby group for Tamils in Australia, is one of the groups listed as a terrorist organisation. Nine Australian citizens are also on the list.
Sri Lankan born Aran Mylvaganam, an Australian citizen who is involved with three of the listed organisations, described the move as “another government outrage designed to continue the oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka and to silence the diaspora”. He called on the Australian government to join the UK and Canadian governments in condemning this action.
“I will not be silenced by them. Nor will other people who are involved with trying to assist Tamils who are being subjected to all kinds of horror by this genocidal regime,” he said. “Already the UK and Canada have called out this cynical misuse of the laws on international terrorism proscription. Australia needs to do the same.”
Mylvaganam works with the Australian Tamil Congress, Tamil Youth Organisation and the Tamil Coordinating Committee, all of which have been listed as terrorist organisations. He came to Australia as a 13-year-old asylum seeker after his school was bombed in 1995 by the Sri Lankan Air Force. His brother was killed, along with scores of other children. He has not been back since.
However, if he returned now, Mylvaganam would face arrest and incarceration for up to 18 months without trial or access to lawyer. “It is a bizarre feeling to be officially listed as being involved with terrorism. If it wasn’t so serious for so many people it would make you laugh that a government goes to such ridiculous lengths to stop legitimate opposition,” he said.
A UK Foreign Office spokesman said the British government would continue to engage with the Tamil groups listed as terrorists, saying the Sri Lankan government had provided no evidence that any of the proscribed groups or individuals were involved in terrorism. He said that the UK had raised the issue with the Sri Lankan government, “making clear that proscription should not be used to prevent or stifle free speech and legitimate criticism”.
A Tamil National Alliance MP, P Ariyanenthiran, told the BBC Tamil Service that the government had included on the list dead people, and even a member of Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan Freedom Party from Batticaloa in the country’s east. A 90-year-old Canadian citizen and 87-year-old German citizen are among the 400. “There are also many people on the list currently living in Sri Lanka; families in Batticaloa and temple caretakers. All of them are living in fear now,” he said.
Human Rights Watch Asia director, Brad Adams, joined the condemnation. “Putting organisations engaged in peaceful political activity on a terrorist list is a modern version of McCarthyism,” he said.
The latest move by the Rajapaksa regime to silence its critics is seen as a reaction to last month’s decision by the UN Human Rights Council to instruct its High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, to undertake an investigation in war crimes and crimes against humanity by government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels between 2002 and the end of the civil war in 2009.
The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said last week that his government would not cooperate with the inquiry and indicated it would not allow Pillay to enter the country.
The Minister for Mass Media, Keheliya Rambukwella, said the government would take legal action against any citizen who presents evidence to the investigation deemed to be in violation of the country’s constitution.
Prominent TNA MP, Suresh Premachandran, said the government was fear-mongering about the Tamil Tigers reforming to cover their continued attacks on Tamils in the north-east of the country. “These organisations are not running in secret. They are following all the national laws of their respective countries,” he said. “The government can ban them but the international community is not going to be fooled by their actions.
“At the same time, it has given an opportunity for the government to create fear in Tamil communities. Anybody who maintained contact with these organisations can be arrested in Sri Lanka. This can be used to bring down democratic political parties or politicians who represent these parties.”
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