Abducted man believes diplomats saved him from death

Ben Doherty -Apr 12, 2012

Premakumar Gunaratnam says he is certain his captors in Sri Lanka planned to kill him.

Premakumar Gunaratnam says he is certain his captors in Sri Lanka planned to kill him. Photo: Anthony Johnson SMH

AN Australian man who says he was kidnapped at gunpoint, sexually assaulted and tortured in Sri Lanka - he claims by the country's secret police - believes he would have been killed if not for Australian diplomatic intervention.

Speaking at his home in Sydney's north yesterday, having been deported from Sri Lanka for overstaying his visa, Premakumar Gunaratnam said he was certain his captors meant to kill him. ''I have no doubt that if I didn't have the Australian government's support I would have been killed just like my brother and hundreds of other political activists and journalists have been killed.''

Mr Gunaratnam, whose Australian passport bears the name Noel Mudalige, was born in Sri Lanka, but migrated to Australia in 2006. His dual citizenship was cancelled under recent changes to Sri Lankan immigration law.

He is a long-standing left-wing political campaigner in Sri Lanka and claims he was taken from his home because of his anti-government activism. The day he was abducted he was set to be elected leader of a new breakaway political faction, the Frontline Socialist Party.

Just before dawn on Saturday morning, Mr Gunaratnam said about 15 to 20 men arrived at his house in Kiribathgoda, in Colombo's north. ''I heard some noises and just opened the window from the second floor and I saw there were some people surrounding the house and they have guns and rifles and pistols and usually those sort of weapons are being used by the government forces,'' he said.

The men stormed the house and forced their way into his room, pointing a gun at him.

Mr Gunaratnam said the men's language - their orders, requests and way they addressed each other as ''sir'' - gave them away as government forces, though they never identified themselves as such.

He was blindfolded and taken in a van somewhere in or near Colombo.

''I can confirm I was abducted by the Sri Lankan government forces, who blindfolded me and tortured me. This includes, I am embarrassed to say, sexual torture. I was handcuffed and my ankles were bound during the whole period.'' He was interrogated about his political activities and his new party, and threatened with a gun.

Mr Gunaratnam said yesterday a patch of red raw skin across the bridge of his nose was caused by the blindfold he was forced to wear almost the entire time he was detained.

The 42-year-old was released on Tuesday morning, dumped from a van on a Colombo street. He handed himself into police who arranged for his immediate deportation.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's defence secretary and the brother of the President, rejected allegations any state agencies were involved in Mr Gunaratnam's kidnapping, interrogation or torture.

Speaking on a state-owned TV channel, he blamed the Australian government for him being in the country illegally. ''The Australian government knew very well that this man is using a different identity and has taken citizenship in Australia; they knew very well that he came to this country under this false name and was to be a leader of a political party of this country. Is this what they call good governance?'' Mr Rajapaksa maintained the Sri Lankan government does not condone or participate in any forced abductions, and said it was doubtful many of those believed to have been taken by the government were actually missing.

Mr Rajapaksa said Sri Lankan authorities were hampered in their efforts to find Mr Gunaratnam because they did not know he was using an alias.

With Leesha McKenny

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