A British man who says he was tortured in Sri Lanka and detained by authorities after travelling there to get married last month, has returned to the UK following a campaign to secure his release.
Velauthapillai Renukaruban, 36, who lives in Ealing, west London, was freed from detention by the government in the south Asian country after the Foreign Office, a top human rights lawyer in Sri Lanka and a campaign by his family in London helped to secure his freedom.
Renukaruban arrived in the country of his birth on 1 June to marry Thajeepa Vinayagamoorthy, 27, in an arranged marriage. They planned to marry on 8 June and a small family party had been arranged. Renukaruban was planning to return to the UK on 23 June with his wife.
But soon after Renukaruban, who is a Tamil, arrived back at the family home in Jaffna, north Sri Lanka, his family said two men arrived on motorbikes, beat him up in front of his mother and older sister and then bundled him into a van. He was accused of being involved with LTTE, a militant group known as the Tamil Tigers, which fought to break away from the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka. He was then taken to Jaffna prison.
He was only located several days later, after his family made extensive inquiries about his whereabouts. He had injuries consistent with torture, according to Anton Punethayanagam, the Sri Lankan human rights lawyer his family engaged to represent him.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We are continuing to provide support to a British national who was detained by the Sri Lankan authorities.”
Renukaruban said: “I was arrested at my mother’s house and put inside a van where the men who arrested me started punching and beating me. I was taken to an empty house somewhere in Jaffna that I believe is used for torture. There was dried blood on the walls. I was beaten with wooden sticks and a metal bar on my head and face and leg and I lost consciousness.”
The men accused him of being involved with the LTTE. “I kept telling them that I had lived in the UK for many years and have nothing to do with LTTE. But they didn’t listen. I thought I was going to die.” He was later taken to Jaffna prison.
Following pressure from his lawyer, he was taken to Jaffna hospital supervised by guards and received treatment for his injuries.
Renukaruban, who has lived in the UK for 16 years, appeared at Jaffna magistrates court charged with assault, but there was no victim of the alleged assault in court and details of how, when and where the assault had taken place were sketchy. The case was later thrown out.
Renukaruban’s family believe the real reason why he was arrested and detained is that he was previously involved with LTTE when he was living in Sri Lanka as a teenager.
Renukaruban, who arrived at Heathrow airport earlier this week, was limping and complained of severe headaches. Doctors who treated him for his injuries urged him to seek medical treatment as soon as he arrived back in the UK. He went to Ealing hospital on Tuesday and was referred for a brain scan that he hopes to have in the next few days.
The medical records state: “Assault in custody, multiple lacerations and haemhorragic contusions.”
Renukaruban’s sister, Velauthapillai Lalitharuby, 26, who lives in London, campaigned for her brother’s release and return to the UK. “I’m so happy he’s back safe,” she said. “But I’m scared that he has a serious brain injury.”
Punethayanagam said it was unusual for torture victims to be treated in hospital in Sri Lanka and that it was only because of the involvement of the Foreign Office and campaigners in the UK that Renukaruban had been taken from Jaffna prison for treatment.
The most recent Home Office guidance on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, published in May 2016, includes reports from various human rights organisations and the US Department of State. There is a warning of “a growing climate of fear” as well as incidences of arbitrary arrest and torture in the report.
Renukaruban was married on Sunday 3 July and hours later boarded the plane back to the UK.
“When I went to Sri Lanka to get married I thought this was the beginning of new happiness for me,” he said. “Instead terrible things happened and I was frightened and sad on my wedding day. I had to leave quickly before we could get a visa for my wife. She is now in hiding in Sri Lanka and I hope I can bring her here soon. I will never return to Sri Lanka again.”
Renukaruban’s UK lawyer, Kulasegaram Geetharthanan, condemned the Sri Lankan authorities and said the Foreign Office should have done more to help him.
He said: “We intend to take this case further as we have very strong evidence of abuse and torture. The Sri Lankan government must pay compensation to the victim. We intend to commence an international lawsuit against the Sri Lankan authorities,” he said.
The Sri Lankan high commission in London declined to comment. (The Guardian)