Key evidence missing on ASIO refugee case
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Key evidence missing on ASIO refugee case

A secret review upheld an ASIO decision to brand a Tamil refugee a threat despite the security agency admitting it lost crucial evidence.

The review conceded that ASIO had relied on an unsigned, translated summary of the man's refugee claim that would ''have little evidentiary weight'' in court - even though the Rudd government uses the ASIO finding to justify locking him in indefinite detention.

Refugee in detention 'Sasi'.

Refugee in detention 'Sasi'.

Sasikanthan Shanmugarayah, 30, has been held since a failed 2009 attempt to sail to Christmas Island yet never charged with a crime in Australia and has no rights to appeal. He has suffered depression and told the Commonwealth Ombudsman last year he ''did not expect anything other than to die'' in detention.

A 21-page review of his case obtained by Fairfax Media offers the first glimpse of the ASIO ruling that he poses a security risk.

''Sasi'', as he is known, is among 52 people recognised as refugees held in detention, unable to return home or live in another country.

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A copy of the review, compiled by former judge Margaret Stone, was delivered on Friday, weeks after Sasi was told the adverse assessment by ASIO was upheld.

Lawyers are angry the review - with sections blacked out ''for reasons of national security'' - focused on Sasi's escape from Sri Lanka's civil war and does not explain why he poses a risk to Australia. ''This is effectively a life sentence,'' said lawyer Stephen Blanks. ''The outrageous feature of these reasons is you are left none-the-wiser as to why he is a security risk when you finish reading them.''

But a spokeswoman for Ms Stone said all aspects of ASIO's assessment had been examined. ''An unclassified copy may not make it obvious that this has been done. However, you may be assured that all issues have been addressed,'' she said.

Sasi claims to have been press-ganged as a teenager into siding with the Tamil Tigers during the war and insists he was never a formal member. But an unsigned summary of his interview with the United Nations refugee agency in Indonesia states he ''joined'' the Tigers in 1999 after high school, received weapons training and fought the Sri Lankan army. It states he moved to Colombo, transporting pistols that he believed were used in assassination plots, before fleeing in 2005 to Indonesia.

Sasi has disputed parts of the UN agency's summary as a mistranslation and was not interviewed by ASIO before it made its adverse assessment. ASIO did interview him in 2010, but Ms Stone noted any record of that interview appears to be lost. Ms Stone noted ''although it was unable to local the audio recording or any written record of the interview, ASIO provided the written brief … prepared for the purposes of the interview''.

In Sasi's case, Ms Stone found: ''There can be little doubt ASIO had a sound basis for its assessment in 2009'', with the rest of the sentence blacked out.

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Daniel Flitton

Daniel Flitton is senior correspondent for The Age covering foreign affairs and politics. He is a former intelligence analyst for the Australian government and was at one-time a university lecturer specialising in international relations.

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