The Australian Federal Police (AFP) declined the opportunity to interview a Sri Lankan asylum seeker sent back from Christmas Island who alleged he had been “severely tortured” by local police on his return, a cable obtained under freedom of information laws has revealed, The Guardian reported.
The cable, sent to Canberra from the Australian high commission in Colombo in August 2010, states that the AFP did not interview the alleged torture victim so as to avoid interference with an investigation being conducted by the Sri Lankan police.
“In the interests of keeping our distance from the Sri Lankan investigation, we do not intend to take up the offer to meet with him,” the cable states.
It states the man was arrested as a result of a “disruption” – or operation to combat suspected people smuggling – that had occurred a week previously. “The detained suspect is a Sinhalese returnee from Christmas Island,” it reads.
The cable reveals that an AFP officer instead “managed to sight” the man while he was in Sri Lankan custody and deduced that he “appears in good health” but it is unclear how much time had elapsed between the alleged torture and the AFP viewing the returned asylum seeker. The case was eventually written off as “unsubstantiated”.
The cable also makes reference to a letter from the returned asylum seeker’s lawyer, which lays out the torture allegations in detail. It makes clear that the high commission was in possession of this letter at the time the torture allegations were made.
The legal letter, which formed part of the returned documents from a Freedom of Information Act request initiated by Guardian Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre, sheds further light on the allegations.
It states that the alleged torture victim had received a call from the Australian high commission in Colombo seeking to return some of his possessions from Christmas Island, a year after his return. It says just a few days after this call, the man was contacted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sri Lankan police.
According to the letter, the man was later arrested and witnesses reported he was “publicly tortured by CID in front of other villagers, mother and wife”. The letter states that the man was tortured again in custody and that his lawyer had been prevented from visiting him.
“Usually Sri Lankan police do not allow victims to say that they were tortured. They somehow prevent this kind of things by threatens [sic]. We need doctors to inspect … immediately,” the letter states.
The cable from the high commission says the alleged torture victim would be seen by a doctor and that the CID officer in charge of the case had told the AFP the torture allegations “had no basis”. The cable also states that the initial arrest was conducted by the Sri Lankan navy.
The case referred to in the cable is one of four brought to the Australian high commission in Colombo as of June 2013.