Student Killings, Aava Gang and the Securitisation of Jaffna (November 18, 2016)
A topmost concern of the Tamil community in the North-East is the Sri Lankan Government’s failure to meaningfully confront systemic policing and military intelligence issues that have once again been brought to the forefront by the recent killings of two Jaffna University students by police. The government has in the aftermath of the killings chosen to utilise the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to arrest dozens of individuals on allegations of being linked to the “Aava group” under the purview of the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID). The arrests under the PTA of alleged Aava group members is creating a climate of fear that represses activism and mobilization, and is perceived by local communities as an attempt to provide justification for the police shooting amidst the annual post-war crackdown by the military in the lead-up to Maaveerar Naal (Martyr’s Day).
Killings of Pavunraj Sulakshan and Nadarajah Kajan and Chunnakham Police Attack
On the night of October 20, 2016, Pavunraj Sulakshan and Nadarajah Kajan, students at Jaffna University, were tragically killed by a police shooting in Kokuvil. The police responsible were part of a special task force (to be distinguished from the Special Task Force (STF)) created to respond to increased gang violence on the peninsula and on the day of the incident had reportedly been stationed at a checkpoint on KKS road. Initially the police attempted to portray the incident as a motorcycle accident (see image 1) 1, but following revelations by the media that one of the two students had sustained gunshot injuries, the Jaffna Magistrate’s crime scene visit and the subsequent immediate mobilisation of the student community in front of the Jaffna Teaching Hospital mortuary demanding a proper inquiry, the Government Information Department released a statement admitting police involvement in the killings.2 Five policemen were arrested and a special Criminal Investigation Department (CID) team was dispatched from Colombo to carry out the investigations.
Mobilising to demand justice for the killings, around 2000 students led by the Jaffna University Faculty Student Unions conducted a silent demonstration in front of the Jaffna Kachcheri and opposite the Governor’s Residence on October 24. 4 In a petition which the students submitted to the President and Prime Minister on that day, they called for: a free and fair police investigation into the killings; an investigation by the National Police Commission into the initial cover up; monitoring of the investigation by the Human Rights Commission and local and international human rights activists; speedy investigations; and appropriate compensation to the families of the victims.5 The students also launched a week-long boycott of lectures at Jaffna University. A hartal called for by all Tamil political parties shut down Jaffna on October 25. Solidarity demonstrations were held across the North-East and in the South
On the same day as Kajan’s funeral, another incident occurred involving an alleged attack on police officers in civilian clothes, which further highlighted the deep issues within the security sector in the North-East. On October 23, a group of men riding motorbikes reportedly attacked and injured two police officers near Chunnakham, Jaffna.7
While initially police stated that the incident was in relation to a robbery that happened in the area, 8 only a day later leaflets were pasted around Jaffna town alleging that the attack was conducted by the Aava gang and that it was in retaliation for the shooting of the two university students.9 The leaflet also claimed that Aava was created to ‘protect the youth community from the degradation of culture in Jaffna’ and that such activities will continue. (see image 2 10 ). As many activists commented, the language and form of the leaflet however point to possible military intelligence involvement in its publication. It is noteworthy that similarly worded leaflets have been issued frequently throughout the post-war period threatening action against political activists particularly under the former regime of President Rajapaksa.
On October 31, Tamil media reported about a leaflet issued under the name of ‘Prabaaharan Padai’ (Prabaharan’s army) addressed to all Tamil speaking police officers in all five districts of the Northern Province to either quit their jobs or to transfer out to police stations outside of the Northern Province. 11 The leaflet, similar to the one claimed to be issued by Aava, claimed that they are issuing this order so as to curb those activities in society that are inhibiting the development of Tamil youth. Tamil civil society activists told ACPR that they suspect military intelligence’s hand in this leaflet as well. They point to similar leaflets that were issued under the name of ‘Ellalaan Padai’ and ‘Sangiliyan Padai’ under the former regime also ostensibly by the military intelligence. They argue that it is impossible for such groups to operate without support from the security apparatus given the very high presence of the military and the police and their intelligence networks in the North-East[…]