Tamil TV presenter begs: 'Don't send me to Sri Lanka'

Refugee detained in Dubai tells Jerome Taylor she faces torture and death if she is deported

A former high-profile newsreader on a Tamil Tiger television channel has pleaded with the international community to save her from being sent back to Sri Lanka where she fears she could be tortured or killed.

Rathimohan Lokini is one of 19 Tamil refugees languishing in an aluminium factory in Dubai and facing the threat of imminent deportation to a country with a known track record of persecuting those with a perceived or real link to the Tamil Tigers.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent by telephone she described her horror of being returned to Colombo. “I am terrified,” she said. “I am in a situation where I could be sent back and killed. My colleagues who worked with me have been persecuted and one person, Isaipriya, was raped and killed during the war.”

Isaipriya was the nom de guerre used by one of Ms Lokini’s colleagues at National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTT), the main broadcaster in the areas that were once controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) before their military destruction in early 2009.

The exact circumstances of her death are not known but evidence has emerged indicating that the 27-year-old was probably executed by Sri Lankan troops on 18 or 19 May 2009.

Multiple photographs emerged after the war of Isaipriya’s naked body with her hands tied behind her back and significant trauma to her face and head. Her body was also identified at the end of a separate video shot by Sri Lankan troops showing the summary execution of naked, blindfolded and bound Tamil men and women.

Ms Lokini, who used the noms de guerre Harini and Kani during her broadcasts for NTT, fears she would suffer a similar fate if she returned because she was such a visible face of the Tamil Tigers’ propaganda wing. 

“I was mainly a newsreader on NTT,” she told The Independent. “When the programme was finished they would include my voice and face. But I had no direct relationship with LTTE commanders. My responsibility was to communicate with my direct managers who co-ordinated with others.”

Reporters Without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka have called on the international community to protect the 28-year-old. “Her visibility exposed her to a considerable risk of reprisals by government security forces and pro- government militia,” they said in a joint statement.

The LTTE was a popular but brutal separatist movement which fought a 30-year campaign for a Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The fight was sparked by decades of discrimination against Tamils by the country’s Buddhist Sinhalese majority, but the Tigers became increasingly discredited through their use of suicide bombings, child soldiers, extortion and attacks against rival Tamil nationalist groups.

Proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Europe and the United States in its latter years, it presided over a functioning civil state in the areas it held until its comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan military. In the final stages of the war, tens of thousands of stranded civilians were killed in a three-month onslaught, in which allegations emerged of war crimes being committed by both sides. The Sri Lankan government, which denies war crimes were committed, has refused any international investigation of those allegations.

Ms Lokini escaped Isaipriya’s fate only because she made a daring flight into the government controlled area of Sri Lanka just weeks before the remaining Tamil Tigers were surrounded by government troops.

She told how, in December 2008, she was smuggled from the Tiger-held city of Kilinochchi to Vavuniya to seek medical attention after discovering a lump in her breast. She changed her appearance but lived in constant fear of being discovered. “I knew the consequence of being arrested,” she said. “I was a beautician originally, so I changed my face, hairstyle, my eyebrows.”

After staying in a relative’s house for a further month she was able to fly to India using her own passport. She was later joined by her husband and they decided to seek sanctuary in Australia. “After surviving the war, we were scared to go back to Sri Lanka,” she said, “Anything could have happened.”

She became one of 46 Tamil refugees picked up by a Singaporean vessel in October 2012. They had been trying to reach Australia when the boat they were travelling in was stricken following a storm and started taking on water. The Tamils were eventually dropped off in Dubai where they have remained incarcerated inside an aluminium factory within the country’s Jebel Ali port complex.

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, believes all but seven of the Tamils had legitimate refugee claims and has been working to find them sanctuary in third-party nations. The Independent understands that Sweden has accepted eight of them, and the United States is considering the applications of a further 12. However, 19 Tamils – including Ms Lokini – have yet to find any country willing to take them in, despite their refugee status.

Ms Lokini claims that the remaining refugees have been told by the authorities in the United Arab Emirates that they are at risk of deportation. However, the UNHCR told The Independent that it did not believe there was an imminent danger. Such assurances have done little to calm the fears of Ms Lokini and her fellow refugees. “I love my country, I want to return to my country,” she said. “But the risk is too great at the moment. We don’t have any choice other than trying to find safety elsewhere.”

Shan Sutha, from the British Tamil Forum, called on the authorities in Dubai to lift the threat of deportation: “If the United Arab Emirates authorities return the 19 Tamil refugees held in detention in Dubai, they are not only failing to protect these refugees from torture and other inhumane treatment, but also showing utter disregard to the UNHCR which, after assessing each individual case, granted refugee status to them.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
scienceBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
Sport
Mario Balotelli posed for this selfie during AC Milan's 5-1 defeat to Manchester City
sport
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + ents
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Sport
sport
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

M&E Construction Planner Solihull

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

Senior Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Leading Sof...

Chemistry Teacher

£90 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried