I signed the petition put forward by the families of the 12 Malaysian Indians arrested in 2019, charged and detained for supporting LTTE. The petition appeals to Malaysian parliamentarians and senators to call for a withdrawal of the charges against these 12 individuals. It also calls on the Home Ministry to annul the listing of the LTTE as a terror organization under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (ALMA ).
The LTTE, which many Tamils throughout the world see as a liberation force, lost their war with the Sri Lankan state in 2009 and there have been no tangible signs of a re-emergence since. Incredulously, it is as if a mere entry of an organization on the ALMA proscription list, no doubt a definition ‘in law’, has established the existence of the entity ‘in fact’. While the PDRM ( Malaysian police) had, at the time of the arrests, made intimations that large financial movements were involved, no such charges have as yet been brought.
The petition states that the ALMA listing of LTTE as a terrorist organization in 2014 was done without making the public aware and, as such, that the arrests of the 12 individuals were made without notice. Regardless of the question of notice, or lack there of, the perversity of the arrest of these Indians under ALMA, without attendant finance related charges, is highlighted by the 3rd consecutive dismissal of a related bail application by the High Court on Friday Feb 14. It is reported in the Star Newspaper that Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah dismissed the application by Suresh Kumar on grounds that a terrorism offence under Section 130J of the Penal Code is non-bailable as provided under Section 13 of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).
In a post titled Indian Vote: Entha Kabali? made before the Malaysian federal election in 2018, I wrote, . … “Whatever happens in the voting, it looks like it is indeed going to be close and, perhaps, the Indian vote is going to be important.” Further, I asked, ” … does the opposition look like they will treat us any different [from Barisan]? Just look at how they made unholy exaggerations and unfulfillable promises on the Stateless Indians issue … should they not be shown that the Indian vote, just like the vote of the other communities, has to be earned?” While I was skeptical about the outcome for Indians, I did, as indicated in my post titled Kabali Da!, cast my lot with the new Malaysia promised by the Pakatan Harapan opposition led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Well, it came to pass that Mahathir and Harapan did win and, in the 2 years since, many have become disillusioned and dissatisfied with New Malaysia for their many unfulfilled promises. One such promise pertains to the Indian statelessness problem. Indeed, in this matter Harapan has been deeply disappointing. They promised a complete solution within 100 days, but their re-branded ‘Indian affairs’ body, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA) has not solved the this problem as yet. As far as I can ascertain, the last statement issued by the minister responsible states that MITRA was still working “to outline a comprehensive solution to the stateless issue, in line with the PH government’s manifesto promise”.
Since then another issue has arisen to affect the Indian community at an equally deep symbolic level – the spate of LTTE related arrests and charges. I have discussed the apparent pervisity of these arrests and detentions under SOSMA of 12 Indians including 2 government MPs previously in this series (beginning with On Being a Malaysian Tamil 1) and the question I explore here is how one might understand the implications for the Harappan government visa vis the Indian vote. The perceived involvement of government, even if it is misplaced, will surely be detrimental to their ability to garner Indian votes in the next general elections
In principle the police act independently of the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary and the government is distant from the decisions of all these bodies. While the judiciary is independent by virtue of the separation of powers expected in Malaysia’s Westminster based legal system, the police and the AG’s chambers are extensions of the executive. They too, however, are expected to act independently of executive interference and without improper collusion with one another. If all is running as it should be in our nation’s governance, no blame can be laid at the feet of the Harappan government for these LTTE arrests, detentions, changes and for the eventual judicial outcomes, whatever they might turn out to be. However, the history of the relationships concerned in Malaysia is such that it will be very difficult for the people to believe in the integrity of the system, even if it were true.
There is no question that the majority of Malaysian Tamils, like most of their fellows throughout the world support the Elam struggle, regardless of their misgivings about the terror tactics of the LTTE. Certainly, most of us feel there was an equal amount of state terror being deployed by the Sri Lankan government in this conflict and that the Terrorist organization designation applied to the LTTE, however justified it might be, is ultimately a political assignation. Indeed, the evidence for this suggestion is the fact that the Tigers were not so designated in Malaysia till 2014, years after the war ended and all acts or terror had ceased. Given this fact and the fact that our Malaysian institutions of state are known for being questionably interdependent, it is going to be difficult for Harapan to win the hearts of the Indian community and, of course, this may have a bearing on their votes in the next elections.
According to a report in FMT, on 18 January 2020, hundreds of people rallied to call for the release 12 Malaysian Tamils detained under the draconian Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) for alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This gathering commemorated 100 days of detention for the 12 men who were arrested under the, commonly called Sosma.
The article also claims that the gathering called on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and the Pakatan Harapan Cabinet to release the men and abolish Sosma in keeping with their manifesto promise. I would like to note that, while Harapan promised to abolish some laws SOSMA was not one of these. Indeed, the widely held notion that Harapan promised to abolish SOSMA is incorrect. Here is what Promise 27 of the Harapan Manifesto said on the matter –
…. The Pakatan Harapan Government will also abolish draconian provisions in the following Acts: • Penal Code 1997 especially on peaceful assembly and activities harmful to democracy • Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 • Security Offences (special measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) • Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 • Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) 2015″
So what exactly the people can hold the Harapan government to, depends on an interpretation of the phrase ‘draconian measures.’ In this regard, the manifesto itself states that a Harapan government would “ensure an effective check and balance” by revoking “all clauses that prevent the Court from reviewing decisions of the Government or the laws introduced by the Government.” I suggest that the provisions of SOSMA that allow for police detention without bail before trial are just such ‘draconian measures’, as they grant licence to the agents of the executive to incarce suspects outside of the ambit of judicial review.
In fact, as reported in Bernama, on Nov 29, the High Court ruled that this portion of SOSMA is unconstitutional “because it divests from the courts the judicial discretionary power to evaluate whether or not to grant or refuse bail.” These are the provisions that can be misused, and will be seen to be misused even when they are used with good intent. In the interest of all accused persons and for the good name of the Malaysian judicial process, these provisions must be revoked immediately.
As I have suggested before, the 12 Malaysian Tamils are being held on the basis of charges that, at best, seem to defy logic. As they sit out their 100th day in prison, and while their appeals for bail to work slowly through the courts system, there is, as yet, no credible sign that the LTTE exists. At worst, these charges are based on guile and malice. As Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy, is reported to have said on behalf of his organization, “We feel that these arrests are politically motivated.” Please see On Being Malaysian Tamil 7
So what makes Prabhakaran and the LTTE meaningful, beyond their obvious significance to the Ceylon Tamils of Malaysia, to the wider group of Malaysian Tamils. Is it that the Tigers said NO to abject racial discrimination and marginalization? Is it because they fought as Tamil nationalists and triumphed against incredible odds. Is it because they carved an autonomous Tamil domain out of the Sinhala state? Is it because they did this, ultimately, without the patronage of colonial or neo-colonial masters? Is it because they created a short but impactful ‘Elam‘ era in modern history? Whatever it is that is so appealing, it all ended with their defeat in 2009
So why do some Indian Tamils and Diaspora Tamils still have such a passion for the after-image of a long vanished LTTE, when the Sri Lankan Tamils have themselves moved on and are looking for new political solutions to the desperate situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka. The one word answer is Maanam. Or in Bahasa Melayu … Maruah. Yes, pride or dignity or that great Asian tradition of giving or saving ‘face.’ That’s what, and perhaps, this is all, the LTTE and their leader Prabhakaran mean to the global Tamil diaspora today. This Maanam is connected with many complex issues issues that were central to the lost Elam regime – issues of caste abolishment, Dravidianism, socialism, feminism and ethno-nationalism. Some of these issues are powerful currency in the vibrant and emotional political theatre of the Tamil motherland, Tamil Nadu. Charismatic figures like Senthamizhan Semaan, whose party Naam Tamilar Katchi plays on deeply ethnocentric themes, exploit and revivify the symbolism of the defunct LTTE. This brings us to the Malaysian connection. Malaysian Tamils of Indian origin seem to have invested in LTTE symbols as a means to uplift their Maanam in the face of Malaysian communalism. The Indians are without doubt amongst the losers in the Malaysian social arrangement. It is in this light that I, from the perspective of a Jaffna Tamil, see the wider Malaysian Indian communities’ passionate and heartfelt engagement with symbols and the cause of Elam.
Tomorrow, on 29 december, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur will give its decision on whether to allow the bail application of Gadek state assemblyman, G Saminathan, one of the 12 detainees charged with LTTE involvement and detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. The LTTE has was defined as a terrorist outfit under Malaysia law in 2014. It is reasonable to understand this definition as applying to participants in the organization before its demise who are still at large. In fact, there have been a few arrests of such alleged LTTE members in Malaysia before and after 2014. If it can not be shown that the LTTE terrorist organization continues to exist or that it is presently being revived, those caught in possession of LTTE symbols, those caught in acts of LTTE commemoration, and those caught in the act of distributing LTTE symbols can not not rightly be deemed to be engaging with terror related activities. They are more appropriately seen as being engaged in the remembrance of symbols associated with a historical organization that has been associated with terrorism. Such actors are more appropriately understood as being involved with the myth of the LTTE, the dream of Thamil Elam and the quest for Maanam at home, not a mission of terrorism.
Despite my origins in Jaffna, I am far removed from the Tamils of Sri Lanka in my lived identity. I am a Malaysian first and, as a Malaysian, my ethnic identification is with the wider group of Malaysian Indians. Historically Ceylonese Tamils have tried to preserve a distinct identity as Malaysians and officially we are not classified as Indians. Nevertheless, I believe that it is appropriate and meaningful that, to the extent that the Indians will accept us, Ceylon Tamils should join Indian Tamils and be absorbed into the identity of ‘Malaysian Indian’. I do not renounce my Jaffna background. Rather, I feel it should be integrated into the wider Malaysian Indian mosaic. With my recent immigration to British Columbia, I am even further removed from my Sri Lankan Tamil identity.
The LTTE fought a vicious war for a Tamil homeland. They exchanged terror for terror with the Sri Lankan state actors and proxies,. They valiantly fought the mighty Indian army. They even set up and ran up a de facto state but in the end they seemed to have pitted themselves against the whole world. They were utterly defeated and now the ordinary Tamil people are picking up the pieces after an alleged genocide, under the demeaning conditions of a Sinhala occupation. Although I have relatives (my mother’s family) who were directly impacted by this war, I have generally lived my own life beyond the reach of the emotions raised by this communal tragedy. Nevertheless, I have followed the situation and when I reflect upon it closely, I feel the pain of my kith and kin!
Meanwhile the ongoing Malaysian LTTE fiasco seems quite perverse and unrelated to the Sri Lankan Tamil realities. So, I wonder, what does the LTTE signify in the Malaysian political scenario? Indian Tamils in Malaysia are mainly descendants of indentured labourers brought over to work in the rubber estates. Their fellows worked on tea estates in Sri Lanka. I must note, not without a sense of shame, that the Ceylon Tamils have set themselves apart from the estate Indians in Malaysia. In Sri Lanka we let the estate Indians down over the issue of citizenship in the early post-independence decades. Nevertheless, the Elam struggle has been a potent signifier and catalyst of a cogent Tamil identity within Dravidian politics of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil ethno-nationalists, have hoisted the Elam flag as their own. Their sense of Dravidian pride was invested in the Elam struggle and, one could say that with the LTTE destroyed, they have stolen its fire for their own political engines.
Now, in Malaysia the Indians are a minority. One that is caught within the discriminations of a postcolonial communalism. They are diminished in political agency vis a vis the Malay majority and even the Chinese minority. They have been, in the last decades seeking catalysts for a vigorous political mobilization. For instance, the Hindraf agitation centred around Hindu identity and temple demolition. Perhaps the symbols of the LTTE play a similar moral boosting and formenting role in Malaysian Indian politics. The ethos of the LTTE may have had its origins in a just cause in Sri Lanka but its xtreme violence is disproportionate to the situation faced by Indians in Malaysia.
With regard to the 12 Malaysian Indians recently arrested and charged with terrorism related offences, while their allegedly excessive engagement with LTTE symbols might reasonably raise the government’s concern, there has as yet been no charge that clearly suggests a resurgent global LTTE. Nor is there any sign in the charges of a Malaysian based LTTE organization being set up. The possession of LTTE paraphernalia, the promotion of the defunkt LTTE cause on social media and the commemoration of dead LTTE heroes do not, in my view, suggest anything more than an entanglement with Tamil pride, Tamil sorrow and Tamil myth. The suggestion by the PDRM (police) of massive financial movements, which might by indicative of an imminent LTTE revival has not been actualized by way a related charge against even one of the 12 detainees. ,,, More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 7
12 Indian detainees wait for trial in Malaysian prisons on LTTE related charges under the ambit of SOSMA with draconian restrictions of their rights to a fair and open trial. Terrorism is a matter of legal definition and that the LTTE was not designated as a terrorist organization in Malaysia until 2014. Until this time, most Tamils in Malaysia as in the wider diaspora would have seen the LTTE as a violent separatist movement born of the exhaustion of peaceful and democratic negotiations with the majority Sinhalese. Velupillai Prabhakaran was doubtless identified as a ruthless leader but admired for his incomparable courage, determination and military prowess.
This admiration is a very different matter from believing that he and his Tigers were right in their methods and even their goals. I for one have always been against a violent struggle for Elam. I have feared that the goal of a Tamil nation on the island of Lanka, while being historically justified, may just be a vanity project for the diasporic community. An edifice that can only be built out of the blood and tears of those left behind. Even if the men and women of the armed movement of liberation may have been cognisant and willing, it is the civilians would have been unwittingly and unknowingly been made to pay. Further, the middle classes were the best equipped to exit the situation as expatriates and refugees, while the working classes and the poor did not have that choice. Offering material support form the safety of the international diaspora would, in my view, have meant foisting blood and sorrow upon those who had no agency. Ultimately, I could not see Elam a sustainable geopolitical entity. Even with all of Prabhakaran’s prowess, he could only deliver Elam as a temporary domain, as a stage in a South Asian game of thrones in which the real players were bigger than the Tamils and the Sinhalese – India, the US and China!
Although I have never supported the LTTE , I do see them as having taken up a valid stance among the options available to the Tamils in their time. Towards the end of the Elam war in 2009, with Tigers and civilians trapped on the beach at Mullivaikkal, I stood with a small crowd of Tamils outside the CBC offices in Vancouver trying to impress upon that estemend news agency, that they were obliged to report on the plight of Tamil civilians caught between the ruthless Tigers who were using them as a shield and the merciless SLA who seemed about to attack with genocidal abandon. News of his situation was, it seemed, being systematically suppressed. Amongst those with whom I stood in solidarity that day, as a member of the Tamil diaspora, were flag waving supporters of the LTTE. It was at that moment impossible for me to extricate the furtherment of the cause of Tamils from that of the Tigers.
For all intents and purposes the LTTE ceased to exist with the Mullivaikkal massacre by the victorious SLA. It can not be denied that to Tamils across the world, even to those who find the their methods despicable and their project erroneous, the Tigers and their leader are champions of the Tamil race. They are the latest signifiers in an ancient stream of heroes and conquerors that flows through the heart of the Tamil identity. While they will not be forgotten as myth they are gone as an organization, and so, even though I make no assumption about the guilt or innocence of the 12 Malaysian Indians, I must note that in charging them with possessing printed literature and propagating the LTTE on social media, the onus is on the state to show that these men were furthering the organizational agenda of the LTTE rather than celebrating the myth . Further the state is obliged to prove that the organization still exists and/or that these men were involved in actually trying to revive an entity that is contiguous with the LTTE that was extinguished in 2009. … More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 6
The LTTE seems to be defunct as an operational entity. As I noted in the previous post, the European Court of Justice has ruled that the LTTE should be removed from the EU’s terrorism list. Nevertheless, the EU seems to have maintained that the LTTE on the said list. One might reasonably speculate that the reasoning behind this is that the fact that the organization is inert does not mean that it can not be revived. This is also probably why this defunct organization remains on terror list in 32 countries across the world including Malaysia where the LTTE was not even proscribed as a terrorist organization until 2014, a full 5 years after the end of the Elam war.
In connection with the possible LTTE revival, there seems to be a US State Department report in 2018 noted: “Despite its military defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan government in 2009, the LTTE’s international network of sympathizers and financial support has persisted.” Indeed, it is conceivable that when the LTTE went down in 2009, the organization had large sums of money dispersed across the world in the hands of unidentified operatives or trustees. It is possible that some such funds are still out there in the hands operatives faithful who, true to the LTTE cause, might be biding their time, waiting to reinvest in armed struggle.
In this light, I took the suggestion, made by the Malaysian Police, soon after the recent SOSMA arrests for LTTE related activities, that there were significant financial transactions in involved, very concerning indeed. It was the only aspect of the initially insinuated allegations against the detainees that I found worthy of serious consideration. Promotion of a proscribed organization that no longer exists seemed trivial and merely symbolic, compared in being involved in financial transactions aimed at actually reviving that organization. So far, however, no such charge has been laid against any of the 12 detainees and I wait anxiously to hear of further charges. Perhaps there will be something coming up that might justify the use of SOSMA and the hysteria generated around these developments, not least by the Police themselves in the manner of the arrests were made and shared with the media.. … More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 5
I find the recent arrests and charges laid against 12 Malaysian Indians, including 2 DAP parliamentarians, in connection with the defunct LTTE (since 2009) troubling in the same way Anwar Ibrahim’s arrest and conviction on sodomy charges was troubling in 1998 . Anwar’s alleged, and later proven (by Malaysian legal standards), criminal acts were significant, not in themselves, but in terms of who Anwar was in the context of Malaysian politics! Is something similar afoot here? Can these Malaysian Tamils’ alleged acts of possession of paraphernalia and of support on social media be significant in themselves? Is something similar afoot here? Can these Malaysian Tamils’ alleged acts of possession of paraphernalia and of support on social media be significant in themselves? There is now as there was then, the sense that there some other tangential purpose is at play. One wonders if, given widely held sympathies of Malaysian Tamils towards the Elam struggle, there are other individuals who have, naively or otherwise, been involved in similarly questionable acts over the 5 years of the LTTE’s proscription (2014 -2019). It is however these unfortunate men who have been charged, and the charges have come at this particular moment. One wonders why? … More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 3