Mass arrests of Tamils increase in Colombo

[TamilNet, Monday, 30 June 1997, 23:59 GMT]
As the Sri Lankan offensive in the Vanni stumbles, Tamil people are being arrested in large numbers in Colombo. This long standing practice of mass arrest has been condemned by human rights organisations, but is part of the Sri Lankan government's strategy of harassing the Tamil populace into withdrawing their support for a separate Tamil state and for the Tamil Tigers.

As the Sri Lankan military's Operation 'Jaya Sikuru' runs into stiff resistance in the southern Vanni region of the Tamil homelands, the random arrests and detention of Tamil people in the Sri Lankan capitol, Colombo have been stepped up. The arrests are carried out under Sri Lanka's draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The government claims that mass arrests are a necessary precaution against the possibility of LTTE agents entering the city. However, many observers feel that the detentions are simply a facet of institutionalised anti-Tamil discrimination.

Amnesty International observed that "Thousands of Tamil people, including prisoners of conscience, were arbitrarily arrested and detained, solely on account of their ethnicity, especially in Colombo" and that "The arbitrary arrest of Tamil people in Colombo is not new. There have been waves of such arrests in previous years".

Even Tamils who are long standing residents of Colombo have been arrested, on the street or in their homes. Tamil visitors to the city often stay in lodges in the areas of the city where Tamils are concentrated. These areas are regularly searched by the Sinhalese police and army and hundreds of Tamils are arbitrarily detained. Perhaps intentionally, a sense of insecurity is being instilled amongst the Tamil populace.

In many cases, Tamils are arrested and trumped up charges are brought against them. Typically, detainees are said to have 'confessed' to being LTTE operatives. The 'confessions' are extracted from innocent Tamils through intimidation and torture, according to detainees and human rights activists.

An Amnesty report on arrests in Sri Lanka said that "A significant number [of Tamil detainees] are held for weeks or even months. They are rarely told why they have been detained. Some [security] agencies routinely beat detainees to extract confessions."

The report also says "Detainees are sometimes accused of involvement with the LTTE, but evidence of this is rarely provided. The questioning is usually in Sinhala. The answers are recorded in Sinhala and detainees are made to sign the statement, even if they cannot understand Sinhala."

Amnesty also says that torture or ill-treatment is a 'routine' method of forcing Tamil detainees to 'confess' to involvement with the LTTE.

By arresting them at random and in large numbers, the Sri Lankan government is showing little regard for the basic rights of the island's Tamil residents. The predominantly Sinhalese security forces have sweeping powers under the PTA and widespread abuses of human rights in the detention centres have been confirmed by international human rights agencies.

Amnesty International firmly believes that "human rights are especially at risk when there are large scale arrests". The large scale arrests of Tamil people in Colombo is a long-standing and ongoing routine.

In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka. Since then, over 50,000 Tamil civilians have been killed by the Sri Lankan security forces.

 

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