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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
life
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
News
people
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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn