Tony Abbott has declared Sri Lanka “a society at peace”. Former Labor Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr also shamefully sided with Scott Morrison, claiming that Sri Lanka asylum seekers are “economic migrants”. But the truth is very different.

Graeme McGregor, the Refugee Campaign Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia, says, “Amnesty International and the Human Rights Law Centre have long documented the human rights abuses widely committed by the Sri Lankan authorities…Despite the end of the 2009 conflict, the Sri Lankan Government has systematically and violently cracked down on its critics.

“Sri Lankan asylum seekers have faced torture upon return to Sri Lanka from countries such as the UK. Torture has been reported in rehabilitation camps…and also in the context of civil policing. All ethnic groups in Sri Lanka continue to face risks of torture in police custody, including sexual violence…In several known cases, Tamils who have been returned to Sri Lanka have faced arbitrary arrest and detention.”

McGregor added, “…there is no way for a Sri Lankan to flee persecution without leaving their country.”

Journalists are killed and disappear

At least 15 media workers have been killed since 2006 and more than 80 journalists have gone into exile since 2005.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists Sri Lanka ranks fourth, after Iraq, Somalia and the Philippines in the list of countries where journalists’ murders are most likely to go unpunished.

One journalist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, disappeared in 2010, having being previously abducted once before by a white van in August 2009. He had been investigating the use of chemical weapons by the Sri Lankan army.

In 2011, the office of Lanka-e-News, the website he worked for, was destroyed in an arson attack. The website’s editor, Sandaruwan Senadheera, now lives in exile after repeated death threats forced him to leave the country.

In April 2014, Sivagnanam Selvatheepan, a journalist for the Jaffna-based Yarl Thinakk ural, and the Colombo-based Tamil daily Veerakesari was viciously attacked by four masked men. Selvatheepan was hospitalised with head injuries and a broken leg.

On Sunday 5 July, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence banned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from holding press conferences, issuing press releases, or running workshops or training sessions. The Secretary of Defence is Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Military occupation and reign of terror

The International Crisis Group (ICG) reports that the Sri Lankan military is conducting a “campaign of terror and intimidation campaign in the north [of Sri Lanka].” In just one month, between March and April this year, more than 60 people were detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

In April this year, the Sri Lankan military claimed to have killed four alleged “LTTE leaders”, although they provided no evidence of their allegations. The military claimed the four “were shot dead when they tried to escape”.

The 2012 ICG Sri Lanka recorded, “a deepening militarisation of the Northern Province, and that the Tamil-majority north remains under de facto military occupation, with all important policies set by Sinhala officials in Colombo.”

Sixteen of the 19 divisions of the Sri Lankan army were deployed in the majority Tamil areas in the north.

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, the military and the government have embarked on a program of systematic “Sinhalisation” of the north, settling ethnic majority Sinhalese into formerly Tamil areas.

The Tamil-speaking north is now covered with Sinhala sign-posting, streets renamed in Sinhala, monuments to Sinhala war heroes, and even a war museum and battlefields that are open only to Sinhalese. Sinhala fishermen and businessmen are regularly given advantages over Tamils.

On 5 July 2014, a Tamil protest against Sri Lanka military land grabs in the Kilinochichi area was broken up by the Sri Lankan police.

By Ian Rintoul

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