Terrorism expert's testimony helps man win asylum

A Singapore terrorism expert's insider knowledge shaped a London tribunal's decision to grant asylum to a former Tamil Tiger who claimed he faced persecution in his native Sri Lanka.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna said the anonymous man's claim that he worked for the finance wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during Sri Lanka's civil war was credible.

Prof Gunaratna heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Judgment grounds released last week said Prof Gunaratna's opinion was sought because he is an expert on the inner workings of the LTTE. He interviewed its leader V. Prabhakaran before his death as well as several hundred cadres.

The asylum seeker, a 27-year-old Jaffna-born Sri Lankan national, said he joined the separatist group in 2007. He was trained and worked in its finance wing.

The LTTE was defeated by government forces in May 2009 after a 25-year insurgency.

The man fled Colombo in 2011 and entered London via Nairobi on an Indian passport. He sought to remain in England for fear of persecution and harm if he was deported to Sri Lanka.

He was refused entry by Britain's Home Secretary, and a first-tier immigration tribunal turned down his appeal last year.

The three-judge Upper Tribunal for immigration and asylum, to which he further appealed, reversed the decision last week on asylum grounds and under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The tribunal noted that his sister had been a personal doctor to deceased Tiger leader Prabhakaran before she was killed in the war, and that given the "close connections" and "his irregular exit from Sri Lanka... there remains a real risk he would be of interest on return".

The tribunal further noted that from 2010 he had been quizzed repeatedly by Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department.

"Their suspicions were not allayed but increased over time," the tribunal noted.

The man was detained twice, once as a civilian, and the second time because of his family connections. He also bore scars left by torture.

"The authorities within Sri Lanka have knowledge of (his) significant involvement in the LTTE's finance wing and its fuel supply," the tribunal said.

It added the authorities might consider that he had played a significant role in post-war Tamil separatism.

Prof Gunaratna was called to testify as an expert on the claims made by the asylum seeker.

He spoke to the man on the phone for two hours, comparing the account given with his own knowledge of the inner workings of the LTTE.

It corroborated the appellant's account of his role as finance manager and manager of fuel requirements for the LTTE.

The finance wing of the LTTE was a guarded secret and the appellant had knowledge that was not in the public domain, said the tribunal.

The man claimed that his sister's body was not found after she was killed in the final conflict and Prof Gunaratna found the claim quite plausible.

Prof Gunaratna also further testified in writing on the Sri Lankan government's rehabilitation programme for ex-LTTE cadres, which he had helped to "design, develop, implement and evaluate".

He said LTTE cadres deported from foreign countries are detained, probed and either prosecuted or rehabilitated by the Sri Lankan government.

However, he noted that the criteria for being placed in the programme had changed since 2009 - they are now "more nuanced and guided by concerns about the resurgence of the Tigers in the Tamil diaspora".

He added: "The decision as to whether to detain would be made after a fact-specific assessment by the police, security and intelligence services."

The tribunal acknowledged that Prof Gunaratna was "particularly well-placed" to assist with regard to how the rehabilitation programme was operated.

Another expert testified on the Tamil diaspora abroad, noting that of the 10 main destination countries, Britain topped the list with more than 200,000 Tamils, while Malaysia and Singapore were believed to have the lowest numbers.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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