A victory for common sense, a profound defeat for the Australian government and many unanswered questions. How many more failed terrorism cases will it take before authorities recognise the problems with the current strategy? It’s possible to support liberation movements and not back the killing of civilians. Hard to understand for some, but there you go:
Three men who admitted funding the separatist Sri Lankan group the Tamil Tigers have walked free from the Melbourne Supreme Court.
The trio had pleaded guilty to providing more than $1 million to the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), and one of them to providing electronic devices.
Australian terrorism charges against the men were dropped last year but then they were charged under the United Nations Act for providing funds to a proscribed terrorist organisation.
When the sentences were announced, the three men in the dock quietly smiled in relief and accepted congratulations from a big group of the Melbourne Tamil community who attended to support the trio.
Aruran Vinayagamoorthy, 35, not only pleaded guilty to providing funds to the Tamil Tigers but to the more serious charge of providing electronic devices to the group, one of which ended up in a land mine.
He was sentenced to two years in jail but was released on a good behaviour bond for four years.
Sivarajah Yathavan, 39, and Arumugam Rajeevan, 44, were sentenced to one year in prison and released for good behaviour for three years.
Justice Coghlan spent almost an hour sentencing the men and took many factors into account.
Ultimately, he decided that the men could not have been ignorant of the LTTE’s international reputation, but that the men were not necessarily motivated by a desire to fund a terrorist organisation.
“I am prepared to accept as a general proposition that you were each motivated by a desire to assist the Tamil community in Sri Lanka,” he said.
“I would not go so far as saying that your aims were entirely humanitarian, but I do accept that they were not purposely to assist terrorist activity.
“It is true to say that it’s not possible to identify with any particularity, apart from some relatively small individual transaction, what the funds were made available for, but it may have been open for the LTTE to apply funds as they wished.”
Charges came during ceasefire
Justice Coghlan made the point that the relevant periods of time during which the men were charged was a time of ceasefire in Sri Lanka and the LTTE was acting as a de facto government in the north of Sri Lanka.
He was also careful to point out that no tsunami relief money was alleged to have been misused.
“It should be noted that it never was part of the prosecution case that any funds forwarded to Sri Lanka for tsunami relief would be the subject of anything to do with these counts,” he said.
Justice Coghlan said that until Australian terrorism charges were dropped against the three men last year, they had to live with the suspicion created by those charges.
Outside court, Rajeevan was the only one of the three men to speak.
“Tamils in Sri Lanka cannot expect justice from the Sri Lankan government but today we have received justice from the Australian justice system, and we thank the Australian justice system and we will obey that wholeheartedly,” he said.
Defence lawyer Rob Stary went further in his comments about the case.
“Mr Rajeevan was arrested at gun point face down, denied access to his lawyer and then told he was un-arrested,” he said.
“[The judge] in those circumstances said there’s a great unfairness being perpetrated against [him].
“The rule of law means the rule of law must be dispensed and applied evenly across every suspect or accused person. There are no separate rules for terrorism suspects.”
Mr Stary has called for an inquiry into why the Federal Government became involved in the matter.
“This was a conventional civil war [in Sri Lanka], that’s what it was. Why the Australian Government was acting at the behest of the Sri Lankan government, no-one will ever know,” he said.
“There needs to be an inquiry in relation to the manner in which these cases are initiated.
“We accused [Sri Lankan] General Sarath Fonseca, the person who was central to the prosecution case during the proceedings, of being a war criminal. There was lots of evidence that he’d engaged in acts of atrocity against innocent civilian populations – the bombing of orphanages, schools and the like.
“He is now a discredited war criminal in his own country, his own president describes him as a war criminal, , yet he was the person that the Australian Government chose as their central prosecution witness in this case, a choice that absolutely beggars belief.”
How the hell does Canberra sleep at night by finding friends like these?