Velauthapillai Renukaruban, 36, who lives in Ealing, arrived in the country of his birth on 1 June to marry Thajeepa Vinayagamoorthy, 27. The marriage had been arranged by the couple’s families and they had got to know each other by speaking on the phone over a period of months.
The couple planned to marry on 8 June and a small family party had been arranged. Renukaruban was planning to return to the UK on 23 June with his new wife and their Sri Lankan marriage certificate, with further celebrations planned in London for family and friends.
But soon after Renukaruban arrived back at the family home in Jaffna, a densely populated Tamil area in the north of Sri Lanka, his family claim two men arrived on motorbikes, beat him up in front of his mother and older sister and then bundled him into a van. He was then taken to Jaffna prison.
He was located several days later, after his family made extensive enquiries about his whereabouts, with injuries consistent with torture, lawyers said. The family engaged Anton Punethayanagam, a human rights lawyer, to represent him.
Renukaruban, who has lived in the UK for 16 years, appeared at Jaffna magistrates court charged with assault, but there was no victim of the alleged assault in court and details of how, when and where the assault had taken place were sketchy.
Punethayanagam said: “The criminal charge upon our client is baseless as the purported complainant is in exile. He did not appear at all and this proves that the police are pursuing a false charge in his name. Our client was never involved in such assault and we have evidence to confirm this.” He said only international pressure could save his client’s life.
Renukaruban’s family believe the real reason why he was arrested and detained is that he was previously involved with LTTE, known as the Tamil Tigers, a militant organisation focused on freeing Tamils from persecution by the Sri Lankan state.
The Foreign Office confirmed it was involved in the case and providing assistance to Renukaruban to ensure he was not subjected to violence while in custody.
She added: “My brother and I are very close. He does a lot to look after me. I have been crying since I found out that he has been arrested. I just don’t know what to do. I have contacted everyone I can think of to try to get him released and returned to the UK – the Foreign Office and local MPs. I haven’t slept since I found out that he had been arrested. I’m so afraid of what might happen to him. I won’t be happy until he is safely back in the UK.”
Punethayanagam said it was unusual for torture victims to be treated in hospital and that it was only because of the involvement of the Foreign Office and campaigners in the UK that he had been taken out of Jaffna prison to the hospital. He said his client was chained to the hospital bed and watched by two armed police officers. He added that he had taken photos of his client’s injuries covertly.
Ambi Seevaratnam, international coordinator of the International Centre for the Prevention and Prosecution of Genocide, said: “He has torture marks all over his body. We need to get him out of Sri Lanka and back to the UK as soon as possible. Any Tamil who is a British citizen who travels to Sri Lanka from London seems to be suspected of being a traitor.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are providing support to a British man who has been detained in Sri Lanka and are in close contact with local authorities to regularly check his welfare is being maintained while he is in prison.”
The most recent Home Office guidance on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, published last month, includes reports from various human rights organisations and the US state department. There is a warning of “a growing climate of fear” as well as incidences of arbitrary arrest and torture contained in the report (pdf).
Steve Pound, the Ealing North MP in whose constituency Renukaruban lives, said he had contacted the Foreign Office’s south Asia desk on Thursday and that it was now investigating the case.
MP Gareth Thomas of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, said: “We continue to receive reports in the UK about people of Tamil background who have been tortured in Sri Lanka. The UK government is not doing enough to confront the Sri Lankan authorities about these claims.”