Australians stop right-wing goverment’s refugee family deportation

Sri Lankan refugee family thanking supporters in Biloela, Australia (Credit: @HometoBilo)

By Oscar Grenfell in Australia:

Australian government seeks to deport Tamil refugee family to Sri Lanka

30 August 2019

In a major attack on democratic rights, Border Force agents, acting under instruction from the federal Coalition government, bundled a family of Tamil refugees onto a plane late last night to dispatch them to Sri Lanka.

The police-state style operation was only halted in the early hours of the morning after lawyers for the family secured a last-minute federal court injunction, temporarily blocking their deportation. A hearing of the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne today granted a further injunction until 4.00 p.m. next Wednesday. The order, however, reportedly only covers the youngest of the two children, meaning that the threat of the family’s imminent return to Sri Lanka, where they face state persecution, remains.

Lawyers for the family, and their supporters, outlined the brutal actions of immigration authorities in comments to the media.

On Thursday, the husband and wife, Nadesalingam and Priya, were reportedly given two “Notices of Intention to Remove from Australia” for themselves and their daughters, Kopika, who is just four-years-old, and Tharunicaa, who is only two.

In the evening, Border Force agents at the Melbourne detention centre where the family has been held since March 2018 forced them into a van that took them to Tullamarine Airport. The family was then bundled onto a non-commercial flight bound for Sri Lanka.

Priya’s arm was injured when she was forced onto the plane. She was then separated on the flight from her two infant children. They were only taken off the plane when it landed in Darwin to refuel after the injunction was secured last night.

The government’s attack on the family has provoked broad opposition. The attempted deportation was doubtless timed late at night, to prevent protests and other actions.

Despite this, some 50 supporters of the family gathered at the airport within hours of the news that they had been taken from the Melbourne detention centre. Australian Federal Police arrested two women, after they allegedly breached an airport perimeter fence in a desperate bid to block the flight.

This morning, four of the top five Australian hashtags on Twitter were in defence of the family. They included demands that they be allowed to remain in Australia and condemnations of the government.

The hashtag #hometobilo, calling for the family to be returned to the Queensland country town of Biloela, where they were snatched by immigration authorities last year, was the most popular in Australia throughout the morning.

Angela Fredericks, a Biloela resident and campaigner for the family’s freedom, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National this morning: “People in Biloela are in absolute disbelief at the cruelty that occurred last night. The messages I’m getting is people’s disgust at what Australia as a country is doing.”

The government has responded to the outrage by doubling-down on its plans to force the family to Sri Lanka. Speaking on Channel Nine’s “Today” program this morning, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton callously declared: “I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country.”

The government line is a continuation of its 18-month persecution of the family. On March 5, 2018, at around 5.00 a.m., Border Force officers, police and private Serco guards raided the family’s Biloela home. They dragged the infant children out of bed and gave their parents just 10 minutes to pack before they were taken to an airport and flown to a detention centre in Melbourne, over 1,600 kilometres away.

Residents of the town immediately began a campaign in defence of the family, launching petitions, holding demonstrations and winning mass public support. They noted that Nadesalingam and Priya were highly-respected members of the community, where they had lived and worked for years. The petition they initiated has been signed by more than 200,000 people.

The response was a damning refutation of the claims, incessantly peddled by the political establishment and sections of media, that the bipartisan assault on refugees is supported by workers in rural Australia. The sentiments in Biloela are mirrored in numerous country towns and regional centres, where Australian citizens and immigrants work side by side and confront escalating assaults on their jobs and social conditions.

Despite the widespread support for the family, they have been denied the most basic rights to health care. Last month, four of Tharunicaa’s teeth were surgically removed, and another four were treated, because they had become rotten.

Her mother Priya had complained for months that the two-year-old child was in pain and had been unable to eat solid foods due to her untreated dental conditions. Because of the neglect by the authorities, the baby will spend the next five years without any front teeth, until her adult set begins to grow.

At the same time, a succession of courts refused to uphold the family’s refugee status, claiming that it would be safe for them to return to Sri Lanka.

These assertions are transparently false. Nadesalingam and Priya fled Sri Lanka and came separately to Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013. They sought refuge in the wake of the Sri Lankan government’s almost three-decade communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The war concluded in 2009 with the mass murder of Tamil civilians and the imposition of military-rule in the country’s north. Tamil workers and youth continue to be threatened and imprisoned by the police and the security services.

In April the Sri Lankan government imposed a state of emergency that abrogated basic democratic rights following Islamist terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday. These police-state measures are continuing. Amid mounting social tensions, the Colombo political establishment is feverishly seeking to whip-up communal antagonisms.

Other Tamil asylum-seekers who have been returned by Australia to Sri Lanka have faced detention and state persecution, forcing many into hiding. Given the prominence of their case, moreover, Nadesalingam and Priya will inevitably be targeted if they are returned to Sri Lanka. There is every likelihood that the government will make an example of them to intimidate others who are considering applying for asylum. …

What is required is the development of a movement of the entire working class against the reactionary framework of “border protection”, which is used to divide workers along national lines and divert attention from the cause of the deepening social crisis: the capitalist system.

In a deliberately punitive move, immigration authorities transported the family from Darwin, where the flight bound for Sri Lanka had landed, to the offshore Christmas Island detention centre in the Indian Ocean, north of the Australian mainland. The facility was re-opened by the Coalition government earlier this year although there are no other refugees detained there: here.

Australia: Stop the deportation of the Biloela refugee family! Here.

Sri Lankan Saudi, Trump-style ‘war on drugs’

Demonstration against death penalty in Sri Lankan capital Colombo, EPA photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Sri Lanka is going to carry out the death penalty again and employs two executioners

Sri Lanka has appointed two official executioners to carry out the first executions since 43 years. Last February, President Sirisena announced that four convicted drug criminals would be put to death by hanging.

The verdict must be executed by specially trained executioners, but the last one left five years ago without ever executing anyone.

More than 100 candidates responded to the vacancy, in which they asked for people with ‘a strong moral character’. Two US Americans and two women also applied for the position, although foreigners and women were excluded from the procedure in advance.

The two men hired are now in the final phase of their education and must be ready in two weeks. …

By a government measure in 1977, the death penalty was automatically converted to life imprisonment.

Amnesty International says it is “shocked and indignant” and argues that executions for drug-related offenses are illegal.

US official delivers Trump’s threatening message to Sri Lankan president: here.

Internet censorship in Sri Lanka

This 25 April 2019 video says about itself:

Sri Lanka‘s government is maintaining a ban on most social media. It says it is necessary to stop the spread of misinformation and the incitement of violence in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings.

The ban raises questions as to whether it is censorship or a government fulfilling its duty of care to its citizens.

Al Jazeera’s Mereana Hond reports.

By Naveen Dewage in Sri Lanka:

Sri Lankan government moves to criminalise “fake news

19 June 2019

The Sri Lankan cabinet recently approved two proposals to amend the country’s Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code in order to criminalise “false news” and
hatred statements”.

Tabled by the acting Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms Ranjith Maddumabandara, one of the proposals calls for fines of up to 1 million rupees ($US5,715) or a five-year prison sentence, or both, for anyone found guilty of “false news distribution.” The other change would impose as yet unspecified fines or imprisonment for “hatred statements”.

Maddumabandara presented the planned measures following requests from parliament’s Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security, which includes MPs from all political parties in the ruling coalition and the official opposition.

The request underscores the unanimity and determination of all factions of Sri Lanka’s political establishment to censor the internet and social media as well as print and broadcasting outlets.

The terms “false news” and “hatred statements”, which are not defined in the proposed measures, will be used to persecute all perceived political opponents, including, in particular, socialists, workers and youth challenging the government and the state apparatus.

Attempting to justify the laws, the government information department declared: “Law and order authorities as well as civil society leaders have been increasingly concerned about the rising social tensions and worsening ‘hate speech’ messaging both on the internet as well as in public statements by various groups in recent weeks following the shock suicide bombing attacks on Easter Sunday, April 21st.”

The so-called civil leaders and law-and-order authorities raising these concerns are none other than President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, parliamentary opposition leaders and the military and police top brass.

Sirisena responded to last April’s Easter Sunday terrorist attacks by reactivating the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which grants wide-ranging powers to the police and the military, and by extending the draconian measures for a second month.

A total ban on social media was lifted only after users were warned “to act in a responsible manner.” Two weeks after the terror attacks the ban was re-imposed for two days when government and opposition-instigated racist thugs went on a rampage against Muslims. One person was killed, many others were injured, and widespread destruction of property took place. Police and security forces turned a blind eye to the attacks.

A year ago, in March 2018, Sirisena totally banned social media for about two weeks when Sinhala-Buddhist racist groups launched violent anti-Muslim attacks at Digana in the central hills district.

The “concerns” of Sirisena, Wickremesinghe and the parliamentary opposition about “false news” and “hatred statements” are as fraudulent as their claims that emergency laws and mass deployment of the military are needed to stop terrorist attacks. Key government and opposition leaders as well as the defence hierarchy were warned in advance of the Easter Sunday bombing attacks and have exploited the tragic death of hundreds of innocent people to introduce police-state measures.

Sri Lanka’s criminalisation of so-called false news and hate speech is a direct attack on freedom of expression and part of a broad-ranging international assault on the internet, social media and investigative journalism.

In the US, the Trump administration is collaborating with the giant Google and Facebook corporations to censor socialist and anti-war content on the internet. Similar restrictions are in place in the UK, Germany, France, India and other countries.

The escalating attacks on investigative journalism and freedom of the press are highlighted by the arrest and jailing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Britain and the Trump administration’s attempt to extradite him to the US on espionage charges.

Early this month Australian Federal Police launched unprecedented raids on the Sydney office of the state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a national network, and the home of a senior journalist for News Corp. The police seized hundreds of digital files in the raids, claiming the journalists had published secret government documents.

Underlying the determination of the ruling classes to censor and control the internet is their fear of the resurgence of working-class struggles internationally and growing interest in socialism. Internet and social media platforms are being widely used by workers and youth to organise their struggles and fight for their social and democratic rights.

Social media usage is widespread in Sri Lanka. According to recent reports, Sri Lanka, which has a population of just 21 million, has active social media usage by 6 million people, or almost a third of the country’s citizens.

As Colombo moves to criminalise “false news”, it is also seeking new methods to intensify its control of the internet.

The Sri Lankan president’s media division has reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping told Sirisena during his recent visit to Beijing that he would send technical experts and equipment to Sri Lanka to help “trace individuals who propagate false information through social media.” Xi’s offer was in response to requests from Sirisena.

China uses high-powered Internet surveillance techniques to clamp down on the growing opposition of workers, students and intelligentsia to the repressive bureaucratic regime.

Colombo systematically blocked websites during its 26-year communal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The war ended in 2009 but the blockades continued. Like its predecessor, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has targetted social media and websites, and maintains its special Internet military intelligence unit established during the war.

Last November, the Telecom Regulatory Commission, which is under the control of President Sirisena, blocked, and demanded the extradition of its editor-in-chief from the UK, after the publication began criticising him.

Shakthika Sathkumara, a writer, has been held in remand since April after being falsely accused of spreading hatred and disrupting communal harmony after he posted a short story in his Facebook account. He has been repeatedly remanded in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Sathkumara was taken into custody following a complaint by extreme-right Buddhist monks who are in the forefront of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment.

Colombo’s planned new measures to censor and control the Internet and social media are clear moves towards the establishment of dictatorial forms of rule. Workers and youth must vehemently oppose this crackdown.

The author also recommends:

Sri Lankan prime minister threatens increased internet and social media censorship
[10 September 2018]

Facebook deletes WSWS post on Sri Lanka
[14 November 2018]

Sri Lankan Muslim victims of violence interviewed

Attacked mosque in Minuwangoda, Sri Lanka

From the World Socialist Web Site in Sri Lanka:

Muslim victims of violence in Sri Lanka speak to the WSWS

By our reporters

17 May 2019

On Wednesday, WSWS reporters visiting Minuwangoda, a bustling town in the Gampaha district of Sri Lanka, discovered a ghost town. The town, with many Muslim-owned shops, is located 50 kilometres from Colombo in the Western Province. It has been devastated by an anti-Muslim rampage by Sinhala racist thugs.

Fully armed Sri Lankan army soldiers and police special task force officers are now “protecting” this town along the Colombo highway, after a rampage carried out with the direct or indirect backing of the police and military. The attack lasted several hours on Monday evening, before and after a curfew imposed by the government.

Military in the burned area in Minunwangoda

Other areas that came under attack included Chilaw, Nikaweratiya, Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola, Bingiriya, Kobeigane and Wariyapola. Kotramulla and Thummodera in the Naththandiya area experienced severe violence. All are located in the north-western province. One 45-year-old Muslim was killed by thugs at Kotramulla. Many were injured.

As WSWS reporters visited Minuwangoda, acting defence minister Ruwan Wijewardena toured the area with Muslim ministers, a day after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also toured the town. Town residents spoke with contempt of their promises of “protection for the people.”

Minuwangoda town is deserted. Apart from police and soldiers, only a few shopkeepers remain. Two cafes named Halal and Faus and over 50 Muslim-owned shops selling clothes, shoes and electronics were totally destroyed, as well as the Sinhala-owned Siripathi Dress Point and Echo shops. Windows and doors at a mosque at the centre of town were broken. The “Diamond Pasta” plant, Sri Lanka’s largest pasta-producing factory employing 500 workers, was also gutted. About 30 persons in the factory during the attack jumped from the windows to save their lives.

Almost all Muslim shops were closed for Ramadan prayers when the attack took place. Goons broke the shops’ locks, looted valuables and finally burnt them down.

The owner of Siripathi Dress Point at his shop

The owner of the Mohideen Shoe Palace told the WSWS, “Most of the attackers came from outside. Goods worth hundreds of thousands of rupees are now burnt to ashes. At Amra Tex, near our shop, denim trousers worth tens of millions were looted before the shop was burned.”

The owner of Jewel Moon lamented, “Most of our business is done in the festive season. Now, a huge amount of money has to be paid to wholesalers from whom we bought the goods.”

All the shop owners asked how they were to repay their bank loans after the destruction.

Muslim shopkeepers and store workers mostly live in Galoluwa, about 1 kilometre from the town. After the attack, security forces surrounded the area and intimidated people. Around the “Eksath Junction” area, 30 Muslim families’ houses were damaged by goons.

A worker said, “Soldiers came in black clothes, covering faces in black. Knocking doors with their guns, they shouted obscenities, saying ‘Thambio’ (Muslims). When we came out of houses they fired at the ground to intimidate us. All children in the village are still nervous.”

Mobs broke the gate to attack the house

Police searched the entire Galoluwa area two weeks ago but found nothing suspicious. The worker added, “Ordinary Muslim people have no connection with any violence. The bomb attacks were carried out by those who have links to ISIS. We thoroughly condemn their attack.”

The rampage followed the April 21 terror bombing of three churches—two in Colombo and one in the outskirts—and three luxury hotels, killing over 250 and injuring 500, bombings allegedly carried out by ISIS and the National Thowheeth Jamma’ath (NTJ) Islamist group.

Sahabdeen, 65, who supports his children and grandchildren by selling cheap snacks, said his house was attacked with stones: “I have two daughters and a son. They are married. One of the married ones has a three-wheeler but does not get enough business. I bear most of the family expenses. Our house does not have even proper electricity. What is expected by attacking us?”

Sahabdeen holding a stone thrown by thugs

Another person said, “The Minuwangoda urban council chairman, government and opposition ministers and MPs traded blame for the attacks. But no one came when we were hit, and shops were burned.”

A group of workers explained their view of the international situation to the WSWS. One said the American imperialists build up terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda and ISIS and use them to manipulate resource-rich Middle East countries like Iraq: “America said that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. These were all lies. Recently, Libya and Syria were destroyed. Millions of people have been turned into refugees. In history, there have been conspiracies to bring pro-American governments to power.”

When another worker asked why the Sri Lankan government invites US intelligence agencies like the CIA and FBI to Sri Lanka to investigate the bombings, the first replied, “This government also works with America.”

Halal Food destroyed

WSWS reporters discussed Washington’s war drive against China and its regime-change operation in 2015 to oust ex-President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime, which it saw as too closely aligned with China. Rajapakse is not an opponent of imperialism, however, and now is reaching out to Washington.

A small businessman said, “We thought security forces were there to preserve peace. But we were hit with guns. Children were terrorized with filthy words. The media does not show these things.”

WSWS reporters explained the Sri Lankan ruling elite’s chauvinist politics. Anti-Tamil discrimination culminated in a 30-year communal war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Now, every capitalist government notoriously sends state forces, police and thugs against the workers and oppressed, using the method of divide and rule to suppress struggles of the workers and oppressed masses.

Still burning shop

After the April 21 bombings, the communal propaganda of the bourgeois political establishment and capitalist media promoted anti-Muslim attacks across Sri Lanka to divide workers along communal lines.

These attacks were well organised with behind-the-scenes support of established political parties. Dayasiri Jayasekera, a prominent MP in Kurunegala district and secretary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, was filmed going to Bingiriya police and securing the release of several arrested persons. He later held a press conference, claiming that he was there only to quell unrest.

Madumadhawa Aravinda, an ally of Rajapakse and leader of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), was also caught on video. He later said he was there on his way to another area.

Namal Kumara, a notorious chauvinist tied to the establishment, and Amith Weerasinghe of the Mahasohon Balakaya militia, implicated in racist violence in Digana last March, were arrested by police. Nearly 100 have been arrested in the past three days. In the past, such people have been promptly released.

Burnt down shops

In a Twitter message on Wednesday, Rajapakse “urged all members of any political party, including that of his, to maintain law and order and not to aggravate the already sensitive situation.” This is effectively an admission of the involvement of ruling class parties.

Like ruling classes in every country facing an upsurge of class struggle, the Sri Lankan ruling elite is rapidly turning to authoritarian forms of rule. President Sirisena, the government and defence establishment ignored advanced warnings of the terrorist attack, which is now being used to impose antidemocratic measures, including a draconian state of emergency, and suppress class struggles and rural unrest.

All the established parties have rubber-stamped these measures, based on their own police-state agenda. The army then takes the upper hand. Workers must oppose anti-Muslim violence and propaganda, the state of emergency, and unite across ethnic lines, build their own action committees and fight for a workers and peasants government on the basis of the struggle for international socialism.

Nine Muslim ministers of the Sri Lankan government resigned on Monday in response to renewed threats by fascistic Buddhist monks, Sinhala racists and other reactionary elements to violently attack the country’s minority Muslim population: here.

‘Sri Lankan secret police linked to anti-Christian terrorism’

A view of St Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Steve Sweeney:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Sri Lankan intelligence operatives may be linked to terror group

SRI LANKAN intelligence operatives may be linked to the Islamist group that is believed to have carried out the deadly bomb blasts on Easter Sunday that killed at least 321 people and injured 500.

In a now deleted article from 2016, the Sri Lanka Mirror newspaper reported that intelligence authorities had uncovered a secret defence ministry account that was established under the regime of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

It claimed that the cash was used to fund a number of Islamist and Buddhist terror groups including Thowheed Jamath, whose splinter group is said to be responsible for Sunday’s attacks.

The article also alleged that “there is clear information to prove that Thowheed Jamath’s secretary Abdul Rasik Rafiquedeen was an army intelligence member.”

He was arrested in 2016 for inciting hatred against Buddhists after a complaint from the Bodu Bala Sena terror group, for which he later apologised.

Both organisations are among those alleged to have been paid from the same defence ministry slush fund.

According to sources an unnamed close ally of former Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is planning to run for president, co-ordinated the Islamist and Buddhist extremist groups.

He allegedly headed up a special security committee during the 2015 presidential elections controlled by Mr Gotabhaya which planned to seize power in a coup that failed to materialise.

Mr Gotabhaya was charged with human rights violations in the United States at the beginning of April when he was served with papers in a Trader Joe’s car park in Pasadena, California.

The joint US-Sri Lankan citizen is accused of atrocities committed between 2005 and 2015 when thousands were disappeared, killed and tortured during a bitter civil war.

Sunday’s bomb attacks, which targeted churches and hotels frequented by Westerners, were claimed by the Islamic State terror group on Tuesday.

More than 40 people have been taken into custody so far, with the country placed under a state of emergency to try and prevent further attacks.

All of those arrested are Sri Lankan nationals and there are fears that some of the bombers may have fled the country.

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena promised tough action against state security services amid accusations that warnings about attacks planned on churches during Easter were ignored.

He said yesterday that changes would be made “in the next 24 hours.”

It is alleged that the information was also not passed on to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with relations between the two said to be strained.

Sri Lankan president steps up military crackdown: here.

The Sri Lankan government has unleashed a crackdown, mainly targeting Muslims, following the horrific April 21 bomb attacks on three Catholic churches and three hotels that killed more than 250 men, women and children, and injured some 500 more: here.

Anti-innocent Muslim violence in Sri Lanka revenge

Negombo in Sri Lanka

Dutch NOS TV reported on 25 April 2019 (translated):

In Sri Lanka, hundreds of Pakistani refugees have fled the city of Negombo to escape revenge actions … Others have taken refuge in their mosque in Negombo …

The Pakistanis are Ahmadi Muslims who have fled to Sri Lanka. … According to Pakistani law, they are not Muslims. …

So anger about the attacks [on Sri Lankan churches] turned against the Ahmadi Muslims. They were attacked with sticks and stones, on the streets but also in their houses.

“We were attacked in Pakistan because we were supposedly not Muslims,” one of them told Associated Press. “Now we are being attacked in Sri Lanka because we are Muslims.”

Ahmadi Muslims are a liberal tendency within Islam. Very different from the Saudi state religion version of Islam. Which probably inspired the terrible anti-Christian bloodbaths in Sri Lanka. Though we don’t know everything for sure about these crimes yet. Some authors, like here and here, say that conflicts within the Sri Lankan political establishment may also have been a possible cause.