A member of the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly and activists are alleging that three Indian fishermen were subjected to third-degree torture by the Sri Lankan police and have been languishing at a detention camp for the last four months.
Vasanthakumar H, an MLA from the Nanguneri constituency in southern Tamil Nadu told The News Minute that the three fishermen, Xavier, Kingkistan and R Madhan, had set sail from Ramanathapuram and were in severe distress because the Lankan police tortured them with sharp metal objects.
â€śWhat I came to know is unbelievable,â€ť Vasanthakumar says, â€śThe Indian government should act without any delay.â€ť The MLA has also written to the Indian and Lankan governments, in which he has detailed the nature of the custodial torture.
According to human rights activist and lawyer Hubertson Tomwillson of National Domestic Workers Movement in Chennai, the three fishermen had gone to sea in a small wooden boat from the waters of Ramanathapuram on January 15, 2018.
â€śUnfortunately, two days later, the Sri Lankan coast guard took the fishermen into custody and handed them over to the Thalvupadu Coastal Police Station in Mannar,â€ť the lawyer says, adding that it is at the police station that the fishermen were subjected to third degree torture. â€śThe fishermen were bleeding,â€ť the activist adds. A day after the torture, they were taken to a court and then sent to the Vavuniya Prison, he says.
ID documents of the three fishermen who are in detention in Sri Lanka.
After two months, on March 23, the three fishermen were released from the prison and transported to one prison after another over several days, the activist claims. All the three men are now sheltered in the Mirhina Detention Camp.
An official from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka said that they are looking into the incident. Sujeewa Lal Dahanayake, the Lankan National Coordinator of Lawyers Beyond Borders, says that they will take the mater up with the Sri Lankan police and the Registrar of the Magistrate's Courts to obtain more information, and thereafter reach out to relevant authorities to see what action can be taken.
Meanwhile, responding to Indian MLA's letter, the Indian embassy in Colombo replied that the Department of Immigration and Emigration of the government of Sri Lanka had informed them last week about the detention of the three Indian nationals. "As they were not in possession of any identity documents, we have been making efforts to contact their family members for ascertaining their details. The Mission is issuing them with Emergency Certificates to ensure their repatriation. We are also ascertaining the details about allegations of torture as these complaints were not informed either to us or our Consulate in Jaffna," the letter added.
Indian fishermen have been known to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) between India and Sri Lanka, intentionally or otherwise, for fishing.
Crossing the IMBL poses a major risk to Indian fishermen as Sri Lanka has amended its Foreign Fisheries Boats Regulation Act to increase the fine on Indian vessels found fishing in Sri Lankan waters to a minimum of LKR 6 million (about Rs. 25 lakh) and a maximum of LKR 175 million (about Rs. 7.2 crore).
Indian boats have been fishing in the troubled waters for centuries and had a free run of the Bay of Bengal, the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar until 1974 and 1976 when treaties were signed between the two countries to demarcate the maritime boundary â€” the IMBL. However, the treaties failed to factor in the hardship of thousands of traditional fishermen who were forced to restrict themselves to a smaller fishing area.
Fishermen often risk their lives and cross the IMBL rather than return empty-handed, but the Sri Lankan Navy is on alert, and is known to respond by detaining fishermen and destroying their fishing equipment.