These serious allegations are horrific. A government’s duty of care is paramount and yet in this case it seems that the desire for Britain (and indeed, Australia, who says very little about war crimes in Sri Lanka) to have a good relationship with Colombo is central. Also note the use of a private, chartered plane, akin to rendition, for doing the government’s dirty work. Good work by the Guardian:
The British government is forcibly deporting asylum seekers who are then tortured in Sri Lanka, according to the testimony of one victim who was left scarred and suicidal after a brutal two-week ordeal.
The victim told the Guardian he was tortured over the space of 17 days after being deported from the UK last year. His torturers accused him of passing on to British officials information about previous beatings at the hands of state officials and otherhuman rights abuses, to ruin diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The revelations come as Sri Lanka’s head of state, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is expected to have lunch with the Queen and other heads of Commonwealth states as part of jubilee celebrations on Wednesday. The coalition is coming under increasing pressure to revisit its policy, which suggests it is safe to return Tamils to Sri Lanka. Last week the high court halted the deportation of 40 people to the island at the last minute, citing human rights concerns.
In an in-depth interview, the former member of the rebel Tamil Tigers’ intelligence service said he was tortured after the Home Office deported him and two dozen other asylum seekers in June 2011. More than 70 UK border guards accompanied girls and men on the flight from Stansted airport last summer after a last-minute judicial review and his initial claim for asylum based on previous evidence of torture, were turned down by UK authorities, he said.
Speaking through a translator, the victim, who wants to be identified only as Hari for fear of further retribution by Sri Lankan authorities, said that six months after he was deported, security personnel arrested him and beat him with rods, put petrol-filled plastic bags over his face and hung him by his feet with a nylon rope. Hari’s back displays a welter of scars and the Guardian has seen medical reports supporting his claims.
Hari managed to bribe his jailers and escape back to the UK via Russia and is now filing a second claim for asylum. “I came here with a hope,” he said. “I believed that the UK authorities would consider my case reasonably but, regardless of all my history and the evidence, they sent me back and I had to suffer again.”
Last week, the UK government forcibly deported several other Sri Lankans, ignoring pleas from human rights organisations to halt flights in the face of mounting evidence that UK and European returnees have been tortured.
The Home Office has insisted it is safe to return Tamils to Sri Lanka after the end of a long civil war and quotes a European court ruling that “not all Tamil asylum seekers require protection”. However, officials are facing increasing pressure to change their policy.
When a representative from the British high commission waiting at Colombo airport went up to Hari and offered him his business card, the torture victim, now 32, says it gave him hope.
The official told him to get in contact if anything happened to him and that the card was a sign that he might live.
Hari had just disembarked from the worst flight of his life. On the plane, privately chartered by the UK Border Agency in June last year, were 24 Sri Lankans, 12 of whom were Tamils. All had failed in their claim to stay in the UK. Despite documentary evidence, seen by the Guardian, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Hari was unable to demonstrate to the British government he had been tortured by Sri Lankan authorities in the late 1990s.
Watched over by more than 70 UK border security staff, men and women wept as the plane took off from Stansted.
“We were in a panic. We were expecting they would cancel the removal [flight] at the last minute and most of them were crying … I thought, this was the end of my life,” said Hari.
Disregarding the presence of British high commission officials, Sri Lanka‘s security services subjected Hari on arrival to lengthy questioning. Fearing for his life, he took off, fleeing to a relative’s home away from his family in Jaffna, in the north of the war-torn island.
For six months Hari hid with his aunt until he thought it was safe to return to his family but on the way to them on 10 December, he was stopped at a checkpoint and taken to the capital.
In what he described as a “torture hall” on the fourth floor of the criminal investigation department building in Colombo, Hari, who had already served time for being an intelligence agent for the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), was accused of campaigning and raising funds for the organisation while in the UK and also of undermining diplomatic relations by complaining to the UK government of the abuses he had previously suffered.