The tragic plight of Tamil detainees

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: Hot Spring
| Date: 20000200

More than two thousand Tamils are being detained in Sri Lanka today,most of them in jails and some of them locked up in police stations; for no chargeable offence, except that in the eyes of a cruel law - the Prevention of Terrorism Act - they being Tamils they are suspect of being either “terrorists” or supporters of “terrorism” by Sri Lankan definition. The detainees include men, women and even children, and the old and the sick. The ages vary from five years to seventy one.

These detainees are kept for years without being charged or brought to trial before a court of law. These detentions are illegal under the common law but there are no organisations either to highlight the detainees’ plight or to aid them in securing their release.

But in London now there has now emerged an organisation named Tamil Detainees Support Group, initiated by expatriate activists like M.Sivaraja, R.Jayadevan and M.Neminathan who have made it their mission to get the voice of the helpless detainees heard in the outside world. They have so far received nearly three hundred letters from those who are being kept in the Welikade and Kalutara prisons. These letters make pathetic reading . Some of them have been translated from Tamil to English and are published by the Group under the title : CHARGE US OR RELEASE US.

Pictured at the launch of the Tamil Detainees Support Group’s publication - CHARGE US OR RELEASE US - (from left to right) Easan who himself spent four years in Colombo’s notorious Welikade jail), R.Jayadevan, Barry Gardiner, M.P. and Solicitor M.Neminathan.

The document includes a note on Arrest and Detention of Tamils in Sri Lanka by Colombo Attorney at Law A.Vinayagamoorthy and extracts of reports published in the SRI LANKA MONITOR, published by the Refugee Council.

A note from the Chairman of the Group, Solicitor M.Neminathan says, inter alia:

‘:...As can be seen from their letters, these detainees are very poor; they have no one to help them. Their age limit varies from five years to seventy-one ;some suffer from illness. Some are widows; in some cases both husband and wife have been arrested and detained leaving their children on the streets or having to plead for the charity of neighbours or relatives. In another case a widowed mother and her daughter were detained leaving four young children in a desperate position. Most of the detainees are the breadwinners of the family.

The second picture shows Councillor Lawrie Pardoe addressing the gathering.

“These detainees are kept in prisons alongside hardened Sinhala criminals and drug addicts who illtreat them in various ways. There were incidents when convicted Sinhala prisoners, with the connivance of prison guards and soldiers attacked the Tamil detainees. In July 1983, the Sinhala convicts in Welikade prison butchered to death fifty-three Tamil political prisoners. In February 1996 the Tamil detainees in Magazine prison were seriously assaulted with metal rods, clubs and cricket bats by prison guards. On 22nd April 1987 Sinhala prisoners attacked Tamil detainees who were on hunger strike. On 12th December 1997 three Tamil detainees were hacked to death by Sinhala convicts while prison staff and members of the armed forces stood by and watched. Several other detainees were injured.

“As this publication was going to press we received the news that Sinhala prison guards in Kalutara prison had beaten to death three Tamil detainees and wounded another 34 on 6th January 2000. There is no sign that the situation will improve in the near future.

“Female detainees are not exempted from abuse. Convicted drug dealers known as “Kude Amme” subject them to ill-treatment. Their plight is unbearable.

“Most of the detainees have been tortured during the interrogation by the State armed forces. “Confessions” have been manufactured under torture and they are the only evidence available against the detainees, but the onus of proving that the confessions were obtained under duress falls on the detainees....

“We are also concerned about the plight of the Tamil detainees in the “Special Camps” in South India and we will be taking up their cases with the appropriate authorities soon.....

On behalf of the Tamil Detainees Support Group I appeal to you to join hands with us in solidarity with the detainees so that they can be set free”.

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Dossier to be sent to British Foreign Office Toby Harris, a senior local councillor in London and a Life Peer who was himself present at the release of the document prepared by the Tamil Detainees Support Group states in a Press release: “These letters make compelling reading and graphically illustrate the desperate circumstances of some of the detainees. I will be sending this dossier to the Foreign Office, so that Ministers will be aware of the work of the Tamil Detainees Support Group and what they have uncovered”. Toby Harris is one of the most senior local councillors in London He chairs the Association or London Government (represer.ting all 33 London local authorities) which in the absence of a Mayor acts as the democratic voice for London. He was appointed a Life Peer by Prime Minister Tony Blair in June 1998 and was one of the leaders of the campaign for London to have an elected Mayor and strategic authority. He is Labour’s Greater London Assembly spokesperson for Brent and Harrow.