by Mirudhula Thambiah
Nearly 10 Tamils were arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) following their return to Sri Lanka from European countries – Australia, Italy, Middle East and Canada, at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, in the past two months.
Most of these Tamils are those who had left the country during the war, yet due to the change in government, have decided to visit the country on the invitation and request by the new government.
Even though these Tamils confidently travelled back to their home country, once they arrived at the airport, the situation and the treatment they received seemed surprising. They are either checked or interrogated for hours and arrested, if not, after several hours of questioning they are allowed to enter the country, but kept under observation.
The new government stated at several instances that the Tamil Diaspora community living abroad can return to live a normal life in their home country, yet when these people return to Sri Lanka the situation seems to be completely unexpected and different. The government has changed, however, there are no changes at the administrative levels.
Speaking to Ceylon Today Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman, Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said, the new government is inviting the Diaspora to come back to Sri Lanka claiming the situation in the country has changed and it is very democratic, but only the government has changed, and there is no change in the administrative system as the same people prevail at the administering posts.
“I would like to advice the Diaspora not to return to the country, as there is no gain in returning. To my knowledge, a family came to Sri Lanka about 10 days back. A father, mother and a child came from Canada. This family was arrested at the airport and detained for more than four hours. The authorities obtained a statement from the family and finally released them, saying that they do not have any problem and they can freely enter the country,”he said.
Premachandran added, following the release the family had travelled to Jaffna. They were followed by four Criminal Investigation Department (CID) persons. The family seemed to be frustrated of their return as they were intimidated. “The family had to participate at a function in Jaffna. They were followed by the same CID persons and requested to record another statement. As a result the family got extremely terrified and contacted me and finally when I contacted the CID officers in Colombo, I was told there are no charges or issue with the particular family. But, I questioned if they do not have any problem, why should the officials follow them?” he stressed.
Following the interaction with the CID, the family was advised by Premachandran to contact the Canadian High Commission (CHC). Accordingly, the family had to leave the country on the advice of the CHC, as they were facing intimidation.
“Without any accurate reports, Tamils entering Sri Lanka are harassed due to suspicion. The authorities still suspect and wanted to arrest the so called LTTE members who are living abroad. As a result innocent Tamils are being harassed and arrested when returning to their motherland,” he said.
Therefore, Premachandran strongly warned the Diaspora community to refrain from returning to their motherland since there is no actual change in the country. “There is no security for the Diaspora community if they return to Sri Lanka. In the above incident the family was asked to come to an isolated unknown place, not even to a police station. Therefore, security is not ensured for these Tamils who return to their home country,” he charged.
Meanwhile, commenting on the arrest of 41-year-old former Sea Tiger member, Pahiradhi, he said, “I don’t know whether she was actually a Sea Tiger member. But, according to my knowledge, she is a French citizen and her eight-year-old daughter was also born in France. They had arrived in the country for a function. On their way back to France they were arrested at the airport. Now the authorities should understand, how can her child also be a Sea Tiger?”
Premachandran said Pahiradhi should be allowed to speak to the French Embassy. But, the situation was different and she was not treated in a democratic manner, as she was not allowed to have a lawyer.
“We have not spoken to the government with regard to the inconvenience faced by the Tamil Diaspora community when they return to Sri Lanka. But, we would seriously warn the Diaspora not to return,” he reiterated.
Meanwhile, former Minister and General Secretary of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), Douglas Devananda, commenting on the situation said there is a difference in the way the former and current governments view such incidents. It is the role of the present government to tackle issues in a manner not to affect any community.
“A situation should be created among communities to trust the current government. Yet, this method should be adopted in all sections of the administration of the new government. At the same time, trust should be practised and followed not only by the government but by the Tamil representatives too,” he said.
Devananda said the situation is better than when the former government was in power as now Tamils are asked to give statements at the airport but previously the people were first arrested without any questioning.
“Yet, the officials who record statements should not treat people in a disgraceful manner. If the officials are suspecting a person who arrives from abroad, they should not be ill-treated,” he added.
He said that questioning is not harmful. If people lose trust in the government and the administration it will result in negative repercussions.
“I will take up this matter in Parliament and discuss with the President and the Prime Minister on how to avoid future disappointments,” he stressed.
When contacted, Acting Police Spokesman, ASP Ruwan Gunasekera, said not only Tamils whoever is suspicious will be questioned by the authorities at the airport.
“Pahiradhi has been detained for 90 days by the Colombo Magistrate and her daughter is allowed to stay with her due to security reasons,” he said.