Mr. Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram (57), an Irish citizen was arrested and detained upon arrival in Katunayake International Airport on September 5, 2007 accused of helping the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and has since been arbitrarily detained without charge. A Writ of Habeas Corpus was filed but had been continuously delayed as has a Fundamental Rights Application. Despite urgent appeals by The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, tremendous ongoing support from the Irish government and members of the European Parliament the government of Sri Lanka has failed to take any action. Mr. Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram has now been in detention for over five years without being charged or, in fact, produced before any court of law. At present he is detained at the Magazine Remand Prison in Colombo. This case is yet another illustration of the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in the country.
Mr. Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram (57), an Irish citizen whose address in Sri Lanka is No: 41/3, Thimibirigasyaya, Colombo 05 is married Ms. Deirdre, an Irish citizen and they have three children. Prior to the incident of his arrest the family was residing in Singapore. Jeya was arrested and detained upon arrival in Katunayake International Airport on September 5, 2007 accused of helping the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and has since been arbitrarily detained without charge.
At the beginning, neither the family nor the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was informed of his whereabouts. He was initially detained incommunicado for three weeks. At present he is detained at the Magazine Remand Prison in Colombo. Jeya is a Polymer Engineer by training. At the time of his arrest he was self-employed and running a business manufacturing plastic bags in Sri Lanka which were sold worldwide. Jeya and Deirdre had been permanent residents of Singapore for the previous 18 years. Jeya was born in Sri Lanka but has been an Irish citizen for 19 years. Since his detention his wife and three children have suffered terribly by the loss of their father and husband and the ongoing ambiguity surrounding his detention. To date no charges have been levied against Jeya and he has been permitted extremely limited access to his lawyer, Mr. Vinagayamoorthy. In the first three years of detention, Jeya only received a handful of visits from his lawyer, despite the fact that Mr. Vinagayamoorthy followed the correct procedure and applied in writing for permission to visit his client on numerous occasions.
Jeya has been held in a number of prisons and detention centers, including the Boosa Detention Camp in the south of Sri Lanka, many hours away from Colombo. He has suffered long stints in solitary confinement, without breeches of prison regulations on his part. At various points in his detention, Jeya has not been allowed to exercise, has suffered from Chikungunya (a mosquito borne disease which can lead to long-term liver damage), fever, recurring muscular problems affecting his ability to walk and tremendous weight loss. He has complained of the lack of medical facilities and has not been provided with his blood pressure medication. Furthermore he has been confined to his cell for long periods. There have also been instances of torture and because of the distressing nature of these events Jeya has not always been fully communicative about the exact nature of the punishments that have been administered. In July 2011 he was hospitalized for an operation.
The Irish Embassy was informed immediately of his arrest and officials have visited Jeya on a number of occasions over the past 5 years. Embassy of Ireland officials in Delhi are handling the case and have been extremely helpful along with their Department of Foreign Affairs colleagues in Dublin. However, despite pressure from these officials there is still no sign of Jeya’s release. The then third secretary at the embassy of Ireland in Delhi, Mr. Justin Ryan was particularly supportive and a great comfort to Jeya’s family.
At the time of Jeya’s detention, Irish Embassy officials were informed that he could be held for up to one year without charge but the Supreme Court in Sri Lanka also ruled in June 2008 that no person could be held in detention without charge for more than three months. However, the police frequently ignore such rulings and arbitrarily detain many Tamil citizens depriving them of their right to liberty enshrined in the Sri Lankan constitution.
An unfounded accusation, which emerged earlier on was that, the Irish government trained police officers for the Tamil held areas in the North and East of Sri Lanka, known as Vanni. Jeya, who is a Tamil by birth, was supposed to have arranged for this training to be completed however, he vehemently denied any part in this. Another allegation involved the education of the children of a Tamil rebel leader, who were alleged to have studied in Ireland. This was also supposedly arranged by Jeya. In reality, Jeya has no contacts whatsoever in the Irish Government and has never been involved in any of these activities. Further unsubstantiated allegations listed in Sri Lanka’s submission to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD Opinion 30/2008) were refuted by the world body. Despite Jeya’s prolonged detention, no evidence of any of these accusations has ever been produced.
A Writ of Habeas Corpus was submitted in October 2007. To date, the court has not ruled on this application. At one point the police offered to release Jeya for US$ 15,000. Other attempts at financial extortion were made to Jeya’s family and having consulted the Irish Embassy they were advised against that course of action. The Habeas Corpus hearings continued throughout the year in 2009. A range of court hearings were scheduled and postponed in Jeya’s absence. It is worth noting that Jeya has never been presented before any court, received a meaningful review of his custody or given an opportunity to challenge the justification for his continued detention. As each date approached, the family would get their hopes up that perhaps Jeya would be released but the case would always be postponed to a later date. To date, the courts have not ruled on this Habeas Corpus application.
In January 2010 a Fundamental Rights Application was filed in the Supreme Court but court hearings were repeatedly postponed again for three months. The case is ongoing but with little hope of legal redress following eleven hearing dates.
In May of 2011 a number of influential political and business leaders from Ireland came to support the campaign. In July, Jeya underwent an operation at Sri Lanka National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL) where his feet were handcuffed to a bed after coming out of the operating theater by four security guards even when he was still heavily anesthetized. On September 1, 2011 the UNWGAD sent an urgent appeal to the Sri Lanka government to release Jeya. This appeal was undersigned by six UN agencies to add weight to the appeal and was sent from the UNHRC.
In addition the family retained various lawyers to represent Jeya, including the highest-ranking senior counsel. The lawyers utilised a number of additional ‘legal avenues’ to secure his release. For example, the failure of the Sri Lankan government to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which it has ratified) demonstrating the disparity between the government’s stance internationally and domestically. Deirdre also hired a Sinhalese lawyer, Mr. Jeevantha Jayathilaka, to take up the case in the hope that a non-Tamil lawyer might have more influence on the judicial system. Mr. Vinagayamoorthy subsequently hired Dr. Ranjith Fernando, an expert in Habeas Corpus cases to support him. Despite the best legal efforts, there has been no movement on the case. In October 2011 Romesh De Silva PC took over the legal handling of the case from Mr. Vinagaymoorthy.
Jeya was visited by the third secretary from the Irish Embassy in Delhi in November 2007 and by the first secretary from Delhi in February 2008. He was visited by the former Irish Ambassador to Delhi and Sri Lanka, Mr. Kieran Dowling in September 2008, and the current Ambassador Kenneth Thompson visited him in November 2009, February 2010 and November 2010. Ambassador Thompson availed of the opportunity to express the Irish government’s serious concern regarding this case. He stressed that by International standards, ample time had lapsed and Jeya should have been charged or released. The Irish Honorary Consul in Colombo also visited Jeya several times and has also been supportive. It can be seen from the above that the Irish government have been very active on this case but do not seem to be able to wield any diplomatic leverage over the Sri Lankan government.
Assistance has been sought from several international organizations: The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Jeya’s detention is arbitrary (Opinion 30-2008) and urged the Sri Lankan authorities to release him immediately and to honor the International laws to which they are a signatory. A further urgent opinion was issued by the UNWGAD on September 1, 2011.
In an effort to seek wider support, Deirdre has written to several international organizations including Amnesty International, protests from the International Committee of the Red Cross and briefs sent from Amnesty International along with the UNWGAD have been to no avail with the government of Sri Lanka. Jeya remains detained in terrible conditions with inadequate medical facilities, poor sanitation and over-crowding causing further distress and damage to his health.
Dr. Paul Mooney, a family friend, was in touch with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael Martin T.D, (T.D. is a member of the lower house of the Irish Parliament) to discuss his plight directly and Deirdre wrote to Minister Martin on a number of occasions to keep him informed of the progress. A meeting took place between family members and the then Head of Consular Affairs, Mr. Ray Bassett in January 2009 to discuss the case in detail. Subsequent meetings took place between his successor Ms. Marie Cross and the family in October 2010 and July 2011. Jeya’s family believes that only sustained pressure from the Irish government officials have safeguarded his life to date. A number of TD’s asked questions in parliament in early 2011 demonstrating their concern. As of October 2011, 6 Irish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and one London MEP, support the cause, Paul Murphy, Pat ‘the cope’ Gallagher, Mairead McGuinness, Proinsious De Rossa, Liam Aylward, Phil Prendergast and Jean Lambert have written to Commissioner Catherine Ashton and the President of the European Parliament regarding Jeya’s continuing detention.
In April 2009 Deirdre and the three children were asked to leave Singapore. As Jeya was under investigation for supposed terrorist offenses in Sri Lanka, the authorities would not renew the family’s residency permit to remain there. After having lived in Singapore for over 20 years, Deirdre and the children had to relocate to Ireland.
Jeya’s prolonged detention has now lasted for five years without any charge being laid against him. Despite the enormous efforts of his wife and friends, alongside the full weight of the Irish government to secure his release, there has been no movement in this case. The human tragedy is the physical and psychological effects on Jeya and on his wife and three children. “At this point we all feel powerless, not knowing what else we can do to seek a just solution to this awful story”, said Deirdre. The family members of Jeya seek justice for the violation of his rights and appeal for immediate release of him.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has reported innumerable cases in which innocent people have been detained and tortured by the Sri Lankan authorities for long periods of time. Torture is illegal under international and local law.
The Asian Human Rights Commission received several hundreds of cases where innocent people have been illegally arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA). This act has been used by state authorities to conduct mass arrests and detain people indefinitely without producing them before a court of law. Furthermore, this law allows authorities to prosecute the suspects with voluntarily recorded confessions. As a result of these legal provisions, the AHRC has observed hundreds of cases in which suspects who have severely tortured, are forced to sign blank documents or documents which have not been explained to them for use as confessions in court.
The AHRC has issued several Urgent Appeals in recent years calling for justice for the detainees who were illegally arrested and detained under the PTA. The basic principles of rule of law are not respected within the legal system of Sri Lanka. These draconian laws curtail the civil liberties and fundamental human rights of the people of Sri Lanka.
The State of Sri Lanka sign and ratified the CAT on 3 January 1994. Following state obligations, Sri Lanka adopted Act number 22 of 1994 making torture a crime punishable with a minimum of seven years and not less than ten years in prison, on being proven guilty. The Attorney General of Sri Lanka is supposed to file indictments in the case where credible evidence is found of people being tortured by state officers.
Please write to the authorities listed below expressing your concern about this case and requesting an immediate investigation into the allegations of illegal arrest, illegal detention, torture by the authorities and the prosecution of those proven to be responsible under the criminal law of the country for misusing powers of a state. The victim must be released from the prolonged arbitrary detention immediately. The officers involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the department orders as issued by the police department. Further, please also request the NPC and the IGP to have a special investigation into the malpractices of the police officers for abusing the state officers’ powers.
Please note that the AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Working Group on Arbitrary Arrest and Detention on this regard.