Colombo, November 18 (The New Indian Express): The arrest of some members of the North Sri Lankan Tamil criminal gang “Aava” under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is worrying Tamils, according to the Jaffna-based Adayaalam Center for Policy Research (ACPR).
People wonder if the Sri Lankan Security Establishment is using incidents involving the criminal Aava gang to use the PTA and thereby create a justification of the military’s presence in the Northern Province even seven years after the separatist war, the ACPR said in a statement issued on Friday.
“The arrests under the PTA are creating a climate of fear that represses activism and mobilization,” the statement said.
Local communities perceive the use of the PTA to arrest ordinary criminals as an attempt to provide justification for a military crackdown in the run-up to the Maaveerar Naal (Martyr’s Day), a day at the end of November, when the Tamil Tigers used to honor their dead, the statement said.
On October 31, Tamil media reported about a leaflet issued under the name of ‘Prabhakaran Padai’ (Prabhakaran’s army) asking police officers in all five districts of the Northern Province to either quit their jobs or get transferred out to police stations outside of the Northern Province. The leaflet claimed that this order was meant to curb those activities in society that were inhibiting the “development of Tamil youth.”
The Aava gang itself had issued a similar anti-police statement after the shooting down of two Jaffna university students.
According to ACPR, Tamil civil society activists suspect the military intelligence’s hand in these leaflets.
They point to similar leaflets issued by military intelligence under the name of ‘Ellalaan Padai’ and ‘Sangiliyan Padai’ during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime prior to January 2015.
They argue that it is impossible for such groups to operate without support from the security apparatus, given the very high presence of the military and the police and their intelligence networks in the North-East.
The Aava gang was at one point of time de-activated by the police through a crackdown. But still, many young men arrested for petty crimes, were being labeled as members of the Aava gang, ACPR said.
“A young man related an incident in which he and his friends had got into a brawl outside a restaurant in 2014 and were arrested, but once they got to the police station they were told they were being arrested as Aava gang members,” the ACPR statement said.
Despite the government’s pledge that the PTA is no longer in use, dozens of arrests have been made by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) under the PTA, the ACPR charged.
“ Many of the individuals accused of being members of the Aava gang, have no connection with the group, and are actually young Tamil political activists, some of whom were involved in the organization of the Ezhuga Tamil rally,” the ACPR said.
On November 2, Cabinet Spokesperson, Rajitha Senaratne, accused former Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and “top military officials” of creating the Aava gang during the war. The so-called “resurgence” of the Aava gang in the post-war context is meant to create fear among civilians in the North, he charged.
The Deputy Minister of Defence, Ruwan Wijewardena, said that some army deserters may have been involved. Significantly, the Director of Military Intelligence was transferred during this period.
On November 16, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake told parliament, that 38 persons had been arrested for connection with the Aava gang. He claimed that there are in all 62 persons suspected of involvement with Aava.
Ratnayake categorically stated that the arrested persons were not involved in terrorist activities but only posed law and order problems.
“But the minister did not explain why many of the arrests were made under the PTA if there was no suspicion of terrorist activity,” the ACPR pointed out.
The police had however told the court that the men were arrested under PTA because they were funded by remnants of the LTTE located overseas.
“The active use of the PTA to arrest individuals for ordinary crimes is contrary to the promise made by the Government to the UN Human Rights Council and to its own citizens that the PTA will be repealed. The leaked draft Counter Terrorism Act Policy Paper has already indicated that the Government is not interested in dismantling the national security state, “ the ACPR statement said.
(The featured picture at the top is that of police officers in Jaffna displaying swords and other weapons used by the Aava gang).