Expulsion of ‘bomb plot suspect’ from Sri Lanka sparks diplomatic row

Expulsion of ‘bomb plot suspect’ from Sri Lanka sparks diplomatic row
November 08 14:07 2015

The expulsion of an 18-year-old Maldivian man from Sri Lanka on the request of the authorities here has sparked a diplomatic row. Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry has summoned High Commissioner Zahiya Zareer to express its displeasure, according to media reports.

Sri Lankan police on November 1 broke down doors in a Colombo suburb to arrest Ahmed Ashraf, a social media activist. The Maldivian High Commission had said he was wanted over a plot to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen, said Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times.

But Ashraf’s lawyer has said the court order only said he was wanted for issuing death threats.

Ashraf, known as Shumba Gong on Twitter, is a close associate of recently impeached Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, who is also in custody on suspicion of links to the September 28 explosion on Yameen’s boat.

At the time of Ashraf’s arrest, immigration department spokesman Lakshmande Zoysa told the AFP that he was not deported but handed over to the Maldivian authorities in Sri Lanka for repatriation.

“We acted on a request from the Maldivian High Commission… As he no longer had a valid visa he was asked to go back.”

Then on Thursday, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry admitted they had breached local laws in expelling Ashraf. He had a valid visa and had not violated any local laws at the time of his arrest, said Mahishini Colonne, the foreign ministry spokesperson.

An internal investigation into the conduct of foreign ministry officials is underway, she said.

“It is not only this ministry, but the immigration department and others are also involved,” she was quoted as saying. “We will let you know what action will be taken on this… it appears our immigration laws have been violated in sending him back.”

The Sri Lankan immigration chief’s action “has brought the country to disrepute in the eyes of the international community,” the Economy Next said.

According to the Sunday Times, Zahiya is being summoned “tomorrow to answer questions over this serious contradiction that had misled the Foreign Ministry. The Government wants to express its displeasure.”

The Maldivian authorities did not make a formal request to seek his arrest or extradition. Zahiya made the request directly to the immigration department, claiming he was wanted over the assassination attempt.

“Immigration officials, even without consulting the foreign ministry, hurriedly went to work,” The Sunday Times said.

“Perhaps for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, a precedent has been set where any diplomatic mission could simply ask that Immigration or Police officials to arrest an individual and then deport them to their home country. No evidence of why it should be done is provided to the proper authority.”

The Maldivian High Commission in Colombo was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

The foreign ministry in a tweet yesterday said it had made a formal request to the Sri Lankan government to arrest Ashraf. “The arrest made by Sri Lankan authorities. GoM thanks Sri Lankan Govt.”

Meanwhile, the police yesterday revealed that a Sri Lankan national, 27 years, has been arrested on a charge of attempting to assassinate Yameen.

He was arrested on October 24 and has been remanded for 15 days.

Sri Lankan media have identified the man as 24-year-old Lahiru Madhushanka.

Ashraf is among eight men the home ministry had declared a hunt for.

The blast on Yameen’s speedboat has plunged the Maldives into fresh political turmoil. The security forces said they have seized a large cache of weapons from a reef and defused a bomb in Malé. The defence minister and the police chief have been sacked and Adeeb’s supporters have been purged from top government positions.