Facts and fiction in AP story on asylum seeker torture

2017-11-14 00:00:46

How do you strike a balance between commonsense and compassion? That is a tricky question, but two things may not necessarily be interrelated.   

Recently, Associated Press (AP) furnished a report about more than 50 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers who claimed they were raped, branded and beaten repeatedly after they were abducted by the security forces.   

Their harrowing personal accounts should melt hearts of any body- especially judges presiding over their asylum cases in the West.   

“One of the men tortured in Sri Lanka said he was held for 21 days in a small dank room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down.”  
“Another man described being abducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a “torture room” equipped with ropes, iron rods, a bench and buckets of water. There were blood splatters on the wall,” AP reported.  

Most of the men have claimed they were abducted from their homes or taken off the street before being blindfolded and driven to detention sites. The men said they were accused of working with the Tamil Tigers, and almost all were branded with marks made to look like tiger stripes.  

But,there is a very important piece of information that AP writers choose to opt out, obviously because, it could have killed the story.  

In April, this year, the Court of Appeal of UK ruled one of those Tamil asylum seekers allowed himself to be tortured with hot iron bars to support his bid to stay in the UK. Rejecting the claim, the Court ruled that he probably consented to the torture as part of a ruse called ‘self-infliction by proxy’ or SIBP  

In a 22,000 word- Appeal ruling, Lord Justice Sales observed that a ‘cooperative and clandestine’ doctor might have put him under general anaesthesia while the heated iron rods were placed on him, and questioned why the 35-year-old man had not experienced any significant infection as a result of the burning.  

Political asylum is a multi- million dollar enterprise, supported by an army of lawyers and front groups with deep pockets. Interviewing a bunch of asylum seekers assembled by Yasmin Sooka’s International Truth and Justice Project, a fringe diaspora front, is not so much an investigation - it is an advertorial.   

The government in Colombo has promised to investigate those allegations of torture. However, it is in a catch 22 situation. Neither Associated Press nor Ms. Sooka’s NGO, which originally published these claims, would be sharing with the Sri Lankan government, details about the incidents chronicled in the report. They could very well cite privacy and protection of claimants and their families back in Sri Lanka as the reason not to do so. Such a blanket source protection, which is justified when there is a real threat to the sources, also provides a great deal of latitude to concoct anything out of nothing.  
On the other hand, government cannot investigate, even if it is willing to do so, without even the bare minimum of information, yet it has been found guilty until it is proven innocent. Now that the Western governments and Australia have tightened rules of asylum, many more heart wrenching stories of imaginary cruelty would flood the newspapers as more prospective asylum seekers find this as a convenient route to greener pastures.  

The arrogance of the former regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa oversaw a great deal of de-legitimisation of the Sri Lankan state in the eyes of the international community. His handpicked nincompoops thought refuting even the legitimate concerns of the arbitrariness of his regime as a marker of patriotism. The Eelam fringe and Tamil asylum seekers, most of whom are in fact economic migrants, are exploiting that weakness of the Sri Lankan state.  

That is exactly why one needs a heavy dose of discernment to weed out facts from fiction. But, many decent people get overpowered by heart wrenching accounts of unverified horror and trauma, which they gobbled up, as political correctness expects them to do.  

 They would find fault with me for blaming the victims. But, the world is not black and white, a big part of it is grey. Some things that are too good ( or too bad) to be true, may not be true. They should be taken with a pinch of salt.  


Political asylum is a multi- million dollar enterprise, supported by an army of lawyers and front groups with deep pockets. 

Here are a few other reasons why this whole account of AP report is a willful or otherwise, ruse.  
Counter terrorism is not some sadistic venture of branding, electrocuting and beating randomly picked suspects. It has a gruesome, but rational security logic of preventing future attacks and extracting information, while also staying clear as much as possible of potential future legal action which would flare up against security operatives, once the security vulnerability of the state lapsed. That would mean, you would not brand a man with hot iron and release him (unless of course you want to help him obtain asylum somewhere), because, by doing so, you would be exposing yourself to a huge legal trouble in the future. And you will have to fight it on your own, since the Ministry of Defence does not provide legal representation.  

 Untoward sadism can occur only when the chain of command is broken or security authority is diffused, letting security cells to operate independently, or, as Gotabhaya Rajapaksa did, even after the end of war, by giving a carte blanche to this cronies, such as disgraced DIG Vas Gunawardene, who used that authority to extort ransom from suspects.  

But now, a former Navy spokesman is in remand custody and a former Navy Commander himself has been questioned over an alleged abduction racket. It is remotely convincing to suggest that army or police keep arresting Tamils, brand them, and then release, and they all end up in Britain seeking asylum.  

I do not discount that many untoward incidents happened in the past when terrorists were waging a nihilistic war. However, Sri Lanka has passed that security vulnerability. The dispassionate logic of counter terrorism, mandates any action to be proportionate to the threat. Army Commander Lt Gen. Mahesh Senanayake is right when he says, “there’s no reason for us to do that now.”  

It is remotely convincing to suggest that army or police keep arresting Tamils, brand them, and then release, and they all end up in Britain seeking asylum.

However, Tamil asylum lobby and their European benefactors and beneficiaries are not yet ready to strike peace - they obviously cannot, until the backlog of asylum cases are processed.   
What can the government do? Perhaps it can offer to cooperate with UK agencies to verify these claims, as a starting point.  

Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam in a right of reply to the AP story has stated “Sri Lanka strongly condemns any act of torture, and will ensure that allegations of torture committed in the country will be investigated.”  

He is right in not totally rubbishing the allegations as the interlocutors of the Rajapaksa regime used to do. However, Mr. Kariyawasam ought to have done his homework better, before parroting all commitments the government has made to the UNHRC and inter alia. He could have put the matter in perspective, had he cared to refer to the UK’s Appeal court ruling on SIBP. Instead, he sought to highlight the difference between the current administration and its predecessor. However governments come and go, but the state, and its apparatus, including the Army should remain intact, and unsullied. Those who act and speak on behalf of the government are in fact speaking on behalf of the state. However, Mr. Kariyawasam’s clumsy response, I feel, has placed the burden of unverified charges on the security forces.  

Follow @RangaJayasuriya on Twitter  

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