Mystery behind the sudden emergence and exit of Gunaratnam

16 April 2012 05:32 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Mr. Rajapaksa queries, “How could anyone say that he went missing on Saturday? He has been missing since 1990! So this is indeed a very mysterious case – a missing person claimed missing.”
“It is wrong to term this man’s disappearance as ‘abduction’ or ‘enforced disappearance’ for the simple reason that he has been in hiding for a very long time. It was a voluntary disappearance. His very party – the so-called JVP dissident group – kept announcing that he was to make an appearance soon; that he was to come out on Monday. If he was not in hiding, why should they announce that he is going to come out?” the Defence Secretary queries.

Mr. Gunaratnam’s illegal presence in Sri Lanka
With the emergence of a new JVP dissident group, Mr. Gunaratnam re-entered Sri Lanka supposedly to give leadership to a new political party.
If the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) was to be a party in the conventional sense that engages in, if not in electoral politics, in popular politics, having a leader who is a wanted fugitive under a different name would have been a very doubtful and risky strategy.
For not only was he an escapee from a detention centre, Mr. Gunaratnam’s very presence was illegal having overstayed his tourist visa. This is quite apart from the issue of whether an Australian national is entitled to engage in local politics.
Nevertheless, the fact that this group and its followers opted for someone like him to be their leader and work with him casts serious doubts about the nature of this group and what they were trying to achieve in Sri Lanka. In that sense, the claims that this was not merely a political party but more a group willing to engage in subversive activities, gain credibility.
When rumours surfaced in September 2011 about Mr. Gunaratnam’s arrival in Sri Lanka, the Defence Secretary requested the Australian High Commission to provide details which could help law enforcement authorities to establish the identity and whereabouts of this person.
“I asked the High Commissioner to help us find the whereabouts of this person and even gave his wife’s telephone number in Australia,” recalls Mr. Rajapaksa.
 This request was ignored, and on April 7, the Australian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Robyn Mudie informed Mr. Rajapaksa that an Australian citizen known as Premakumar Gunaratnam was reported to be missing from a house in Gemunu Mawatha, Kiribathgoda.
Mr. Rajapaksa informed the High Commissioner that the Sri Lankan immigration records did not indicate the entry of a person by such a name.
“I told her, I asked you for details about this person in September 2011 but I was not furnished any information. At least now give me this person’s name and passport number. So she gave the name as Noel Mudalige, who had left Australia on September 3 and arrived in Sri Lanka on September 4. Only then did we come to know of this person as Noel Mudalige,” Mr. Rajapaksa explains. 
Any logical assessment of the sequence of events would suggest that if this information was known earlier then Mr. Gunaratnam may have been traced and the open warrant issued against him could have been executed. However by deliberately failing to co-operate with the Sri Lankan authorities, the High Commission gave cover to a known fugitive, which is even more alarming, given that he was allegedly engaged in political activities. One must also question why the Australian High Commission gave PG/NM this special treatment and cover?
“There is a clear connection between this person and the LTTE, with whom he worked very closely in Australia. The timing of the purported abduction, just two days prior to the launch of the party, ensured that he got huge publicity and focused the attention of the international community against the government,” Mr. Rajapakse avers.
 “If you read their party manifesto which came out recently, you will see that they don’t believe in democratic politics. How can the Australian government support a party that does not believe in democracy? The Australian government is directly or indirectly, willingly or unwillingly, supporting a party that does not believe in democracy. Australia has clearly acted wrongly in this case; it is a huge mistake on their part. They talk about transparency and good governance but where is the transparency and good governance in this case?”
“A relationship is always a two-way street, not one-way. We are helping them keep away illegal migrants and are working very closely with them. But on the other hand, they are hiding details from us. The Australian government has openly said that Sri Lanka is the only country that has effectively countered illegal migration into their shores,” Mr. Rajapaksa points out.

Contradictory statements and puzzling conduct of Australian HC
According to the statement Mr. Gunaratnam made to the CCD in the presence of HC Mudie, no complaint of harassment let alone sexual torture was made. He stated that his abductors treated him well and questioned him about his future plans for the party. However, once in Australia, another version is narrated to the Australian media.
The presence of the Australian HC at the CCD should, surely, have given adequate confidence to one who hoped to lead a political party in Sri Lanka to make a frank statement about what had happened. Thus far, HC Mudie has not offered any statement to contradict what Mr. Gunaratnam said in her presence.
What is most puzzling in this drama is the manner in which Mr. Gunaratnam’s passport came into the possession of HC Mudie. Mr. Gunaratnam didn’t have his passport with him when he reported to CCD. He declared that it had been handed over to the party headquarters. Then the High Commission was requested to give an emergency passport. After the initial call, HC Mudie said that there was no need for an emergency passport as the original passport was in her possession.
 Exclaims Rajapaksa, “Just imagine, how original passport came into the possession of the High Commissioner! There are two possibilities. As soon as he came to Sri Lanka, he could have handed over the passport to the High Commissioner, or once she was told that this person doesn’t have a passport, the party headquarters was contacted and they gave the passport to her.”
 “That means he went with the consent of his party to Australia; in other words willingly. This is a plot hatched by people with vested interests who want to discredit Sri Lanka at this juncture in the international fora,” the Defence Secretary is unhesitant to say.

Not a case of deportation
The Defence Secretary insists that Mr. Gunaratnam’s return to Australia is not a case of deportation as is being reported. “His visa was only valid for one month. Not only did he overstay his visa for almost six months, he committed an even graver offence of engaging in subversive political activities, which he is not entitled to in any way as an Australian citizen.”
An order for deportation has to come from the Commissioner of Immigration. In his case, Mr. Gunaratnam has a ticket, a valid passport, he wanted to go to Australia and the High Commissioner requested the same. However, there was a penalty of Rs. 80,000 applicable for overstaying his tourist visa which Mr. Gunaratnam could not pay.
“Such persons can only re-enter Sri Lanka if they pay the relevant penalty. Had he been kept at the immigration detention centre until he was able to pay, then another complaint of a human rights violation would have come our way,” Mr. Rajapaksa asserts.
 “This is a person who had violated visa regulations. Not only this, he is an Australian citizen. Once you take citizenship with one country, automatically Sri Lankan citizenship gets cancelled – that is our regulation. Here they talk about allowing him to engage in politics. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, he is an Australian who was on a tourist visa for 30 days. This is a grave offence,” the Defence Secretary contends.

False charges: ‘Enforced’ or ‘voluntary’ disappearances?
 According to police sources 88 abductions/disappearances were reported since 2011 out of which 55 cases were solved with the re-appearance of the missing person. The remaining 33 cases are not all complaints against the security forces, and include even elopement, disappearance of mentally unsound persons, and ransom cases.
“I don’t know of any human rights or social activist who has been abducted. Businessmen have been abducted but we have solved most of those cases. Businessmen are abducted not only here in Sri Lanka but all over the world for ransom.”
 “When the war ended, we had around 4,600 detainees. As of today, we have 239 in detention – the rest have all been released. We have only one detention camp in Boosa. We have given access to family members, lawyers, foreign counsellors (if the detained person is a foreigner), the ICRC, spiritual persons, and human rights activists.”
 “That we have denied access is an absolutely false charge.”
 “Ambassador Stephen Rapp of the US, the Australian Deputy High Commissioner, the UK deputy High Commissioner, parliamentarians from Canada, UK, Norway, the LLRC, and officers of the Attorney-General’s Department have all been given access. A permanent Magistrate works in Galle district, inspecting and supervising their welfare. The Karapitiya Hospital provides all medical facilities and there is a small medical faculty inside.
“Completely wrong information is being pumped out,” states Mr. Rajapaksa.
 According to the Defence Secretary what most people fail to realise or refuse to accept is that almost all those reported as missing are criminals such as Thelbala, Veleysuda, and Ice Manju (responsible for Major Muthaliph’s killing), who have links to the underworld.
 “Sometimes they may be in Sri Lanka, but are declared as missing for their own benefit. These are criminals, and they use human rights organisations and the media to their advantage. Identifying the background of the missing person is important.”
 “I am not defending the security forces killing or abducting even criminals or terrorists, it is not acceptable. But it is wrong to keep blaming the security forces without any evidence when there may be many other plausible reasons for their disappearance such as rivalry between underworld groups.”
 “Who are the innocent people who have gone missing? In post-war Sri Lanka, has anyone been abducted from the main political parties such as the UNP, JVP, TNA or SLMC? So far, only the cases of Mr. Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle have surfaced and there are serious doubts over that drama,” Mr. Rajapaksa asserts.

 Unanswered Questions
  •  How did the Australian High Commission come into possession of Gunaratnam’s passport when he claimed it was at his party headquarters? Why didn’t Australia cooperate with Sri Lanka on this matter? Why was his case so important that the High Commissioner personally got involved?

  • How would Australia have reacted if Sri Lanka had facilitated the entry of a wanted Australian fugitive to Australia on a Sri Lankan passport and thereafter not cooperated with the Australian authorities in tracing this fugitive – particularly if there were allegations that he was in the country with the objective of giving leadership to an underground and possibly even violent group?
Australia, over the past few years, has engaged with Sri Lanka with the objective of keeping unwanted people from Australia. In fact Australia itself has stated that Sri Lanka is the only country that effectively cooperates in regulating migration of people into Australia. One would have expected Australia to extend the same level of cooperation towards Sri Lanka. In that context, the conduct of the Australian High Commission in withholding information when requested for by the Defence Secretary in September 2011 in tracing Mr. Gunaratnam is disappointing to say the least.
 The involvement of a foreign mission to pressure a sovereign state to bail out one of its citizens who should have been prosecuted under its judicial system is certainly questionable. All this begs an answer to the question, was it a plot against the Sri Lankan government? An explanation from the Australian High Commission in Colombo would be most welcome.

 Response  to  UNP MP  Lakshman Kiriella

Without considering what has actually happened, Lakshman Kiriella is blaming the government. He says that the legal procedure is to have produced Mr. Gunaratnam before a Court of Law. For a lawyer, it is pathetic that he does not know what the legal procedure is.
 The order to deport should be given by the Commissioner of Immigration so he must brush up on his knowledge of the law. This is why politicians mustn’t open their mouth without knowing the facts.
This shows the calibre of politicians; it is very unfortunate that he has commented without knowing the facts.
Mr. Kiriella is referring to these drug dealers, underworld operatives and criminals as innocent persons. He says that one female came up to him and said that when she went to the Police to complain about the abduction of her son, she found the very person who had come to abduct him at the Police station. Being a politician and MP he must not make general comments. It is a disgrace. As a responsible citizen he must have taken the name of the police officer and complained to IGP. Did he do that? At least even now I challenge him to give the name of the mother so we can get the name of the police officer and investigate.
 He is playing to the UN and the international community by making baseless allegations. Need I remind him that the most number of abductions and extra-judicial killings took place when his party was in power in 1987/88?
I don’t know whether he was in the UNP at that time but the same allegations that are being levelled against this government were levelled against the UNP government as well.

 Response to  JVP MP  Sunil  Handunetti

Sunil Handunetti claims that people don’t have the right to move about freely. I don’t know whether he is living in Sri Lanka or some other country. Today every inch of this country is accessible to any person in this country. I know most of the people from the opposition are going all over the North and East. Mr. Handunetti goes to Vavuniya every week after this government defeated LTTE. Previously he couldn’t go to any of these places.
Opposition United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is having his May Day rally in Jaffna where he couldn’t go to even as Prime Minister. He is very interested in visiting the islands and he has written to me asking for a naval boat to visit all the islands also. This is the freedom we have created. It is very unfortunate for him to say there is no freedom of movement. For the last one year, more  than 20,000 people from the Tamil diaspora have visited Sri Lanka from 101 countries, including one Tamil person from Ethiopia. So how can he claim there is no freedom of movement?

 Response to TNA MP  Suresh Premachandran

Suresh Premachandran is a person with blood on his hands. In 1990 he was working with Varatharaja Perumal in a group called Mandai Kannan, which consisted of about eight members and were involved in eliminating people who opposed EPRLF. Many abductions and killings have taken place under his leadership. If you go to TNA official website, he has given an oath of allegiance before Velupillai Prabhakaran to establish a separate state of Tamil Eelam – so he remains loyal to Mr. Prabhakaran and not to Sri Lanka. 

 Cases wrongly reported as ‘white-van’ abductions

1. One such reported case is from Batticaloa. Sellathamby Pathmanathan was indicted 10 years ago and was facing trial. He was involved in blasting an electricity transformer, apprehended and prosecuted by the law enforcement agencies. He was bailed by the Batticaloa High Court during the period of the Ceasefire Agreement. His sister had reported him as having been abducted in a white van. Later, it was revealed through an eye-witness that he is currently living in the Middle-East. Court was informed of this, and the case is going on in absentia, and the authorities are now investigating how he went abroad.

2. In another incident, a person linked to the drug trade was reported in the media as having been abducted in Mannar. However, far from being white-vanned, this person had been arrested by the Excise Department which had followed the proper procedures in his arrest, and transported in a cab. Certain media reports had wrongly concluded that he was abducted based on information given by his relatives. A similar incident had occurred in Wolfendhal Street in Colombo.

3. Another case is that of an LTTE cadre by the name of Mayuran who was recently apprehended in Galle following the recovery of a suicide jacket in Kataragama. His father had complained on May 24, 2006 that his son was missing but he is now in Police custody and the family has been informed of his detention. Mayuran was found living in Galle using a different identity, whereas he is actually from Badulla. .
 “There may be many such cases where a person who has been reported to be missing is living elsewhere, either in this country or another country, assuming another identity,” Mr. Rajapaksa says, adding that his establishment was committed to resolving the remaining cases.

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