May 28, New York: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the three Sri Lankan nationals deported by Malaysian authorities to Sri Lanka for being members of the Tamil Tiger terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are at grave risk.
The New York-based right watchdog in a statement today said the three ethnic Tamils, who were under the protection of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, would face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment in from Sri Lankan authorities.
"Sri Lankan authorities should ensure the safety of two refugees and an asylum seeker whom Malaysia forcibly returned to Sri Lanka in violation of international law," Human Rights Watch said.
Sri Lanka identified the three suspects as active members of LTTE before they fled to Malaysia and became refugees under the UNHCR.
According to the Police Media Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana one of the suspects Sandalinga Raja Dushanthan had joined the LTTE Political Wing in 1994 and later had extended his full support to the revival of the LTTE outfit.
The second suspect, Mahadevan Kirubaharan, had joined the LTTE Music Band before he fled the country and the third suspect, Selvathurai Kirubananthan, had joined the Intelligence Network of Pottu Amman and had fled the country in 2006.
According to Sri Lanka police, Interpol red notices have been issued on two of the suspects for their arrest.
The UNHCR has recognized two of the suspects as refugees and was determining the claim of the third for refugee status.
Malaysia's Counter Terrorism Division of the police's Special Branch on May 15arrested the three men in multiple raids in Petaling Jaya and Klang, Selangor. Initial investigations have found that the suspects had used Malaysia as a base to collect data and spread propaganda, while trying to revive the defunct LTTE terrorist group at the international level.
The HRW criticized the Malaysian authorities for returning the three suspects to Sri Lanka without any evidence being presented to substantiate the terrorism allegations.
The rights group said the forced returns took place in the midst of intensified security operations by the Sri Lankan government since March 2014, in which there have been scores of arrests and several deaths. Freedom of movement in large parts of the country's predominantly Tamil north and east has been restricted in recent months.
"Sri Lanka's treatment of these three men who have been forcibly returned by Malaysia is now in the international spotlight," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director.
"Malaysia's forced return of these refugees to Sri Lanka is no free pass for torture and mistreatment," Robertson said.
"Governments can't just pick and choose when to protect refugees. Malaysia seemed more interested in burnishing its ties with Sri Lanka than honoring its obligation to protect refugees from possible persecution and torture," he added.
The HRW said Malaysia should now do all it can to stop further abuses for which it might be complicit.