By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
An official Ambassador is defined as a diplomat of the highest rank accredited to a foreign Government as the resident representative of his or her Motherland. The equivalent designation to an Ambassador among Commonwealth Nations is High Commissioner. Since an Ambassador or High Commissioner is the premier representative of his or her country any honour bestowed upon him or her in the host country is a respect afforded to the envoy’s country. Likewise any insult or injury caused to a High Commissioner or Ambassador is an affront to the envoy’s own country. It is in this context that the recent assault on Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ibrahim Sahib Ansar at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport by a gang belonging to the “We Tamils Party” has to be viewed and condemned.
September 4, 2016 being a Sunday was a holiday but not so for Lankan envoy in Malaysia Ibrahim Sahib Ansar. He and his loyal staffers at the Sri Lankan mission in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur (KL) in accordance with protocol requirements were busy catering to the arrival and departure of Sri Lankan Ministers to and from Malaysia. Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen was to arrive in the morning to participate at the annual Pangkor International Development Dialogue (PIDD). Primary Industries Minister Daya Gamage and Deputy Petroleum Resources Development Minister Anoma Gamage along with two Sri Lankan MP’s were scheduled to depart in the afternoon. They were returning after attending the 9th International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) held in Kuala Lumpur.
High Commissioner Ansar was at the Kuala Lumpur International airport (KLIA) in the early hours of the morning to receive Rishad Bathiyudeen and his delegation. The envoy was accompanied by his deputy chef de Mission Majintha Jayasinghe holding the substantive position of Minister, Protocol officer Senthooran and Consular officer Shuhaib. All four had airport passes for the entire day. The foursome made their way to the KLIA after parking the vehicles near the gate No:4 close to the VIP lounge where they received Rishad Bathiudeen and other delegates. Rishad had breakfast at High Commissioner Ansar’s residence and then left for Perak to attend the PIDD in Pangkor Island.
Cabinet Minister Daya Gamage
At 12 noon, Ansar along with Jayasinghe, Senthooran and Shuhaib arrived at “Hotel Istana” in KL where the delegates participating at the ICAPP were staying. The High Commission team then escorted Minister Daya Gamage, Deputy Minister Anoma Gamage, former minister and present opposition MP Dinesh Gunawardena, Kegalle District MP Sandith Samarasinghe and former Parliamentarian and ex-Muslim affairs minister A.H.M. Azwer to the KLIA. This time the vehicles had to be parked near gate No:8 which was further away from the VIP lounge.When they entered the VIP lounge, the High Commissioner observed two “suspicious” people at the entrance to the VIP lounge. While leaving the VIP lounge after seeing the Ministers and MP’s off , the envoy saw the same two people talking to the Airport Security personnel and pointing to the Sri Lankans. When they reached the exit the Lankan diplomats saw about 15 to 20 people with distinctive “South Indian” appearances loitering outside the Airport building. Some of them wore black tee-shirts with images of a growling tiger and that of former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran. Some wore black jackets covering the tee-shirts partially.
Despite assurances that adequate security would be provided to High Commissioner Ansar and the Sri Lankan Mission nothing tangible materialized for many days. This led to much heartburn within official circles in Colombo. A note of concern at the delay was conveyed to Kuala Lumpur at the highest level.
Realising it would be imprudent to proceed outside in such an environment, the Sri Lankan diplomatic personnel went inside the airport precincts again. Ansar and his deputy Jayasinghe went to the Airport security guards, identified themselves as diplomats and informed them of the potential threat posed by the people assembled outside. They requested that security be provided for them to leave the Airport premises unharmed. To their shock and dismay the Malaysian security personnel at KLIA were unmindful and unresponsive to their concerns and needs. No security escort was forthcoming.
High Commissioner Ansar then telephoned Assistant Superintendent of Police Kanthan of the Special Branch in the Malaysian Police. The Special Branch is the intelligence arm of the Malaysian Police Department. It had been ASP Kanthan who interacted with the Sri Lankan High Commission on Security intelligence related matters. Ansar who was well-acquainted with ASP Kanthan told the Special Branch cop about the prevailing situation and asked for security. Kanthan assured Ansar that he would contact Sepang area Police under whose jurisdiction the KLIA fell and do the needful. The Lankan diplomats waited patiently but there was no Police escort.
Sonia Raminder Kaur
They also saw that more and more of the “tiger tee-shirted” persons were coming into the Airport building in twos and threes. The time was nearly 3 PM.The Lankan Diplomats decided to go one floor below and leave through the exits at the arrivals section. They went down by elevator and started walking towards the Arrivals section. At one point they ran into Sonia Raminder Kaur, the Sri Lankan Airlines Station Manager in Kuala Lumpur and engaged briefly in conversation with her.When talking to Kaur, the High Commissioner stood with his back to the escalator while his deputy Majintha Jayesinghe faced it.
Suddenly Jayasinghe saw several men clad in tee-shirts with images of a tiger and Prabhakaran descending on the escalator. Some were seen clutching bags. Jayasinghe alerted Ansar to what was happening and both started walking away from the spot. The gang that came down the escalator first approached Sonia Kaur in a hostile manner shouting “Are you Siree Lankan, Siree Lankan”. One snatched away the identity tag around her neck.The SLA Station Manager who is a Malaysian National of North Indian origin replied “ No I am not Sri Lankan. I am a Malaysian”.The mob then pointed to the Sri Lankan envoy and asked who he was. Sonia Kaur said “ He is the Sri Lankan High Commissioner”.
The gang then started following the Sri Lankan diplomats who changed their plans suddenly and went through a side entrance to a restricted “No Entry”zone. All four Lankan diplomats had passes allowing them entry into the restricted area. They thought the mob would not be able to follow them into a restricted area. Besides there was a security guard post at the other end.The gang however followed them into the area marked “No Entry”. Seeing the gang following, Protocol officer Senthooran and Consular officer Shuhaib stayed back instead of going with Ansar and Jayesinghe. In a futile bid to protect their High Commissioner both tried to block the gang from proceeding further by stretching out their hands.
The pursuing gang simply pushed them to a side. Shuhaib grasped the shoulder of one man to restrain him. He was punched in the face and fell down. The tiger-tee-shirted gang continued chasing after the Lankan envoy. After entering the restricted area, High Commissioner Ansar had thought the gang would not follow and slowed down his pace. Jayesinghe however kept moving fast and was much ahead of Ansar. Upon realising the gang was still in pursuit, Ansar too hastened his pace but the gang caught up soon with the 60 year old envoy.
“Poathum, Poathum” (enough,enough)
After surrounding Ansar they pushed him to the wall and started raining blows on the envoy. The Sri Lankan High Commissioner tried to block the punches and ward off a few blows. The gang comprising seven persons continued to hit him. A couple of men began kicking him. Ansar’s spectacles fell on the floor and were damaged. His mobile phone too fell and was misappropriated by one of the assailants.The beating was done in silence by the gang. The blows were aimed at the victim’s face, chest and stomach. There was no exchange of words between the gang and the envoy before, during or after the assault. One man however kept saying “poathum, poathum” (enough, enough) in Tamil. Finally the Airport security personnel arrived at the spot and stopped the assault.
High Commissioner Ansar then introduced himself to the security guards and asked them to arrest his assailants.The security men however declined to do so saying the assailants could be arrested only if a Police complaint was made. The High Commissioner protested at that and pointed out that the men would have escaped by the time a Police complaint was made. The security personnel then said “No, we can catch them after the Police complaint is made”. The assailants were then allowed to go off scot free in what appeared to be a flagrant security breach.
The security personnel then escorted the Lankan diplomats to the Police station within the Airport premises. The High Commissioner was bleeding from an ugly gash above his eye. His lips too had cracked and blood was oozing. His staffers brought ice and applied it to the injuries as a first aid measure. Shuhaib had not sustained injuries in the attack while Jayesinghe and Senthooran were virtually untouched. On their way to the Police station, the Lankan diplomats saw a lot of broken eggs on the floor. Presumably the gang had brought them in their bags to chuck at the Lankans. After lodging the complaint, the High Commissioner asked for security escort to the Gleneagles Hospital on Embassy Row of “Jalan Ampang” where most diplomatic personnel in Kuala Lumpur obtain medical treatment. The Police however refused saying they could only provide escort to a Govt hospital and not to a Private hospital.
Wan Zaidi bin Wan Abdullah
The Lankan diplomats then went off on their own to Gleneagles hospital where High Commissioner Ansar obtained medical relief for his injuries. Thereafter he went home after informing the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Colombo of what had happened. Acting promptly Esala Weerakoon who assumed duties as Foreign ministry secretary on August 1 this year summoned the newly-appointed Malaysian envoy to the ministry on Monday Sep 5. Sri Lanka’s feelings of outrage and condemnation over the attack on the High Commissioner were conveyed in the strongest possible terms couched in diplomatic phraseology to Wan Zaidi bin Wan Abdullah, the Malaysian High Commissioner in Colombo. It was urged that adequate security be provided to the High Commissioner and mission and that punitive action be taken against the assailants. The Malaysian envoy deeply regretted what had happened and tendered an apology on behalf of his Govt for the incident.
The Premier’s disclosure about the involvement of “Naam Thamizhar” or “We Tamils” activists in the attacks is certainly correct. However, his references to their citizenship status seems to be incorrect.
Meanwhile, CCTV camera footage of the assault had been “leaked” out by suspected “elements” at the KLIA to certain media outlets. Scenes of Ansar being assaulted were shown on some Malaysian TV Channels and You Tube.Though the actual assault had been done in silence with only one person saying “enough, enough” some other words in Tamil had been added to the clip. Voices in Tamil said Mahinda had escaped but this man got caught and now he is being torn apart (Pichu Edukkiraanga). Certain news reports said that Malaysian Tamil activists had accosted the High Commissioner and inquired from him where Mahinda Rajapaksa was and that the envoy had replied” Go ask the Police”. It was insinuated that the envoy’s insolent retort had infuriated the “activists” who had then assaulted Ansar. In one more version of the ‘blame the victim’ syndrome it was being propagated that Ansar brought the attack upon himself. The truth was that the High Commissioner had at no stage spoken or talked to his assailants. The assailants were “wordless” except for one saying enough. Ansar himself had not uttered a word even while trying to defend himself.
Another news report was that High Commissioner Ansar had been recalled to Sri Lanka. This too was false and circulated perhaps by interested parties in Malaysia to embarrass the envoy. Ibrahim Sahib Ansar is a senior diplomat hailing from Erukkalampitty in the Mannar District. After graduating, Ansar worked as a Customs officer for a while before entering the Sri Lanka Foreign service as part of the 1985 batch of recruits. He had served in the UK and Indonesia as a diplomat and as Ambassador to Oman, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He was also chief of protocol at one time. Ansar who is also a qualified lawyer was posted to Kuala Lumpur after K. Godage was recalled prematurely from Malaysia when Prof. G. L. Peiris was Foreign Minister. Ibrahim Sahib Ansar’s term of office ends in October this year. Former Colombo Mayor A.J. M. Muzammil has been designated as the new High Commissioner to Malaysia.
CCTV Security Camera Footage
After initial dilly-dallying Malaysian authorities got their act in order and began to crack down. The District Suprintendent of Police for Sepang Abdel Azeez contacted High Commissioner Ansar. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport is located in the Sepang District. The envoy was told that the security personnel at the Airport were new and inexperienced and therefore had not responded correctly to the attack. The Sepang Police perused much CCTV Security camera footage but were unable to identify any of the assailants clearly. When told of this High Commissioner Ansar said that he could identify some of the assailants. Thereafter Police stepped up efforts and with the help of “informants” in the Malaysian Indian community arrested five suspects. The High Commissioner’s stolen phone was also recovered. Police told the media that they had arrested five and were searching for four others.
Another news report was that High Commissioner Ansar had been recalled to Sri Lanka. This too was false and circulated perhaps by interested parties in Malaysia to embarrass the envoy
Malaysian Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar announced that police had arrested five people aged between 27 and 56 from areas such as Dengkil, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. Four more suspects have also been identified, and an operation has been launched to bring them into custody, the IGP stated. Khalid further said that police were probing local groups to check on their possible links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. There were also news reports that the arrested suspects were being detained and interrogated under Malaysia’s Security Offences (Special Measures) Act known generally as SOSMA. The SOSMA was created in 2012 under Article 149 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution to combat internal security issues including public order, acts of terrorism, sabotage and espionage etc.
The fact that the men who assaulted High Commissioner Ansar wore Black T-shirts with images of a tiger and Prabhakaran led to a widespread belief in Sri Lanka that the assailants belonged to the LTTE. Some Opposition politicians stated openly that the LTTE was responsible and described the assault as an act of terrorism. Cold water was poured on such assertions when Malaysian Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohomed said in a media statement that the assault on Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia Ibrahim Sahib Ansar at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) was a “political act” and not a “terrorist act”.“It was an isolated incident triggered by political conflicts,” Nur Jazlan said. “The incident had nothing to do with terrorism. However, necessary action has been taken against five people, currently in police custody,” the New Straits Times, quoted him as saying. Nur Jazlan assured that Malaysia would not meddle in Sri Lanka’s affairs, and that the incident would not have any impact on Malaysia.
Kalaimughilan and Balamurugan
The arrested suspects were arraigned with some others in an identity parade by the Police. High Commissioner Ansar identified two out of the 20 persons produced at the Identity parade. On September 9, two men were charged at the Sepang Sessions Court for assaulting Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, on September 4. Malaysian newspapers reported that the two men -- businessman A. Kalaimughilan 26 from Rawang and taxi driver V. Balamurugan 32, pleaded not guilty to charges of rioting and causing injuries to the victim at about 3.00 pm at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). The charge was read under Section 147 of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum two years jail term, a fine, or both upon conviction.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Fariza Hamzah requested for bail to be set at 20,000 Malaysian Ringgit each, saying their act had smeared the country’s image. Lawyer M. Manoharan, who represented the two accused, pleaded for a lower bail amount as he said the accused were from poor families and had no criminal records. Another counsel for the accused, A. Sivanesan said his clients had cooperated with the police during their detention and argued the bail amount was unreasonable. Judge Muhammad Faizal Ismail then set bail at 7,000 Malaysian Ringgit with one surety each and fixed October 7 as the next date of trial. Incidentally one US dollar equals about four Malaysian Ringgits.
Despite assurances that adequate security would be provided to High Commissioner Ansar and the Sri Lankan Mission nothing tangible materialized for many days. This led to much heartburn within official circles in Colombo. A note of concern at the delay was conveyed to Kuala Lumpur at the highest level. Finally, after a week long delay security was provided by Malaysian authorities with effect from Sep 12. Round the clock security has been given to both the Sri Lankan High Commission and his residence. Also a security detail of three Personal Security officers has been provided to the Lankan envoy.
Special Screening of “Kabali”
The attack on High Commissioner Ansar sent shock waves down the Tamil- speaking community in Malaysia. The envoy had interacted very closely with all concerned and had been immensely helpful to both Sri Lankans in Malaysia as well as Malaysian nationals of Sri Lankan origin. Being fluent in Tamil, as a Northern Province Muslim, High Commissioner Ansar had moved with the larger Tamil population of Malaysia consisting predominantly of Tamils from India. He maintained friendly links with the Malaysian Indian Congress a constituent of the ruling “Barisan Nasional” coalition Govt led by Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak. Ansar had been invited as an honoured guest of Datuk Murugan Saravanan the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports in the special screening of the movie “Kabali” organized by the Malaysian Indian Congress. The movie starring superstar Rajnikanth is about a Tamil gang leader in Malaysia. Ansar has also participated in Tamil literary meetings and delivered the keynote speech at a “Thirukkural” research conference.
Against this backdrop, the attack on Ibrahim Sahib Ansar was not welcomed by the larger Tamil community in Malaysia. In an attempt, perhaps to contain this tendency, a well-known Malaysian Tamil politician and one time supporter of the LTTE jumped into the fray with a hard-hitting statement against the victim of the assault. Palanisamy Ramasamy is the Deputy Chief Minister of the Penang State in Malaysia and the Opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) and a Member of Parliament for the Batu Kawan constituency. He is the shadow Foreign Minister in the “Pakatan Rakyat” Opposition Coalition.
According to a news report in “The Malaysian Times” by Vanesha Shurentheran, Ramasamy had said at a press meet in Komtar that while not condoning acts of violence against anybody, the assault against Ansar, had a background. Ramasamy alleged that when some Tamil youths approached Ansar at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and asked about the whereabouts of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he (Ansar) had apparently replied: “We will wipe out the Tigers in Malaysia as we wiped out the LTTE in Sri Lanka”. Ramasamy said “Such a hostile act, rather unbecoming of a diplomat was responsible for the subsequent assault and detention of the five by the police”.
Palanisamy Ramamsamy further said that Ansar is no ordinary diplomat in Malaysia, he added that the latter was sent to gather information of the activities of the Tamils, especially those who are in support of the creation of independent Tamil Eelam, a separate State for Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka.“In the last few years, he was responsible for coordinating information about Tamil refugees coming into the country and passing them to the Malaysian Police.“As the result of the nefarious activities of Ibrahim Ansar, a number of Tamil refugees have been deported back to Sri Lanka by the Malaysian authorities to face detention, torture and lengthy imprisonment in Sri Lanka,” said Ramasamy.
Ramasamy said that he strongly condemns the “unhealthy” role Ansar had played and added that the latter was not suitable to serve as diplomat in the country any more.“While the police were overzealous in arresting the five protestors, they have remained silent on the provocative statement made by Ibrahim.“We want the Malaysian Govt to expel Ibrahim Ansar as soon as possible before he creates further problems between Tamils here and the Malaysian government,” said Ramasamy.
In an interesting development Ramasamy’s unfounded allegations against High Commissioner Ansar were echoed faithfully by Tamil Nadu politician Vaiyapuri Gopalaswamy who now calls himself “Vaiko”, the leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (MDMK) was a known acolyte of LTTE leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran. He still remains a close supporter of the Tigers. The identical sentiments expressed against High Commissioner Ansar by Ramasamy and Vaiko and the joint demand for the envoy’s withdrawal seemed to suggest that the Malaysian Deputy Home Minister’s statement about the assault not being a “terrorist” act warranted a re-scrutiny.
While the likes of Ramasamy and Vaiko ranted and raved against Ansar there was much sympathy for the envoy in his home and native land.The assault of Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia naturally evoked much indignation and concern in Sri Lanka. People of different ethnicities and religions were united in condemning the attack. The national mood was reflected in the legislature too when Parliamentarians cutting across party affiliations -- From Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to Leader of the Opposition Sampanthan -- raised their voices unitedly against the attack. The Malaysian Govt was strongly urged to provide adequate security and also bring to book the perpetrators of violence.
“We Tamils / Naam Thamizhar”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe revealed in Parliament that the persons involved in the assault belonged to the “We Tamils” movement. According to newspaper reports, the Premier had stated “It has been found that the attackers were from the Malaysian branch of the ‘We Tamils’/ Naam Thamilar of Tamil Nadu. They live in Malaysia and have Indian citizenship. They are not Sri Lankans. We are taking action against the LTTEers in Malaysia. This group has links to the main Opposition of Malaysia. We are ready to send a delegation to discuss with this group”.
The Premier’s disclosure about the involvement of “Naam Thamizhar” or “We Tamils” activists in the attacks is certainly correct. However, his references to their citizenship status seems to be incorrect. Those at the forefront of “Naam Thamizhar” in Malaysia are Tamils of Indian origin but most of them are Malaysian citizens. Generally persons with Indian citizenship alone do not get involved in active politics particularly political violence for fear of being deported.
In this instance, those suspected of engaging in violence seem to be Malaysian Tamil adherents the ‘We Tamils’ Movement or party. The party leader is Tamil Nadu film actor-director Seeman, who is an LTTE fellow traveller. The party symbol is a tiger and activists generally wear black T-shirts with images of the tiger and Prabhakaran.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s assertion about the ‘Naam Thamizhar/We Tamils’ being responsible for the Ansar Assault is correct but the premier’s assertion about being ready to send a delegation for discussions with the group is indeed bizarre! Whatever for? Rational dialogue is not possible with these elements. It would serve no useful purpose whatsoever except to boost the image of “Naam Thamilar”. Anyone who really understands the true nature of this neo-fascist movement would not countenance such a move. If the Premier persists with such an intention then he would only lend himself vulnerable unintentionally to charges of appeasement in the future.
Many interesting questions arise in the present situation.
What is the background of the “Naam Thamizhar/We Tamils” Movement or party?
How and why did former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Malaysia to attend the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) held in Kuala Lumpur spark off protest demonstrations against his entry to Malaysia?
Was it only the “We Tamils Party “ alone which organized the anti-Rajapaksa protest campaign or were other political formations also involved?
Why was the Ven. Sri Saranankara Maha Nayake Thera of the Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple at Sembul attacked and by whom? If Mahinda Rajapaksa was the real target of the protest campaign and assailants, how did the ex-President manage to be in Kuala Lumpur and return home unscathed? Have the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora elements launched an anti-Mahinda campaign to target him whenever he travelled abroad to a country where there is a significant Tamil presence?
Was the assault on High Commissioner Ansar calculated to disrupt the good relations between Malaysia and Sri Lanka and hamper the on going efforts undertaken by that country to apprehend and deport LTTE suspects living in Malaysia?
Why were the Malaysian Police who provided security from Sep 2 to 3 to the High Commissioner due to a perceived fire bomb threat so lackadaisical on Sep 4?
The above mentioned and other related questions would be delved into with greater detail in a forthcoming article.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org