ACT News

'They would put a plastic bag filled with petrol on my head', says Tamil asylum seeker

A court has ordered the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, to reconsider the visa application of a Tamil asylum seeker who claims he was tortured by Sri Lankan police.

The applicant, a 36-year-old man described as an "unauthorised maritime arrival", came to Australia in May 2012 and lodged an application for a protection visa four months later.  

But his application was denied by then minister Brendan O'Connor in May 2013 because he was a suspect in the murder of a Sri Lankan woman in 2009. 

One month before his protection visa application was rejected, the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department (CID) wrote to the Australian Federal Police saying the applicant was a murder suspect and had failed to appear before courts with a warrant still outstanding.

The applicant, who cannot be named, denied committing the crime and applied to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia for a review of the decision.

Court documents reveal he was held in custody for more than a year, during which he was allegedly tortured and beaten by Sri Lankan police.


"They blindfolded me and took me to a dark room where they held me and tortured me for four days," he said.

"They beat me on my feet, tied my hands behind my head and suspend me from the wall, and lay me on the ground and stamped on my back in their boots.

"They would put a plastic bag filled with petrol on my head, and leave me to suffocate on the smell.

"Following the torture, I was placed in jail, where I remained for 18 months."

But the minister's representatives claimed it was implausible the applicant was tortured while imprisoned as he did not apply for bail for 12 months, despite the court allegedly inviting him to make an application.

The applicant was held in detention on arriving in Australia and did not tell immigration officials about the torture on two occasions. 

"He said that on the first occasion he was unsure what to say and on the second occasion he did not disclose these events, as he had been told by other detainees that if he did so he would be sent back to Sri Lanka," read court documents

AATA Deputy President James Constance said "his ill-treatment in custody, and the threat conveyed to his family, provided a plausible reason for his fear of what may occur if he was released".

"This is particularly so considering it was at a time when the individual who had threatened his life was working at the local CID office."

"Having listened to and observed the applicant give evidence I am satisfied that he was telling the truth in relation to the treatment he had received in Sri Lanka."

Court documents reveal the applicant was arrested by Sri Lankan police after a woman known to him disappeared in 2009.

He was then taken to court and told "there was no evidence that he had committed the murder but that he was still a suspect".

The applicant told the court authorities were trying to frame him after he made complaints about land rights, and that if he was returned to Sri Lanka he would not be given a fair trial and, if convicted, would be likely to be executed.

"I mean, because I had this land dispute with the CID and they were not happy with me, so they wanted to connect me with some crime," he said in a March 2014 statement.

"That's why they actually connected me to this crime [the alleged murder]".

He also told the court he believed the woman had been raped by members of a Sri Lankan government authority.

Mr Constance said he was satisfied that the applicant was a murder suspect, but stressed the evidence fell "far short of establishing 'serious reasons' for considering that the applicant committed murder".

"The matter will be remitted to the minister with a direction that the applicant is not a person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that he has committed a serious non-political crime outside Australia," he said. 

Correction: The Australian immigration minister in May 2013 was Labor's Brendan O'Connor, not Liberal Scott Morrison, as an earlier version of this story said. A sub-editor made the error.