The Sri Lankan Government has dismissed as 'baseless' the findings of an SBS investigation into the mistreatment of failed asylum seekers sent back to the country by Australia.
Some reported being abducted, tortured, raped and abused by the Sri Lankan security forces on their return in a special Dateline investigation by Go Back To Where You Came From presenter Dr David Corlett.
But on last night's Dateline, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe described the report as doctored, orchestrated and biased.
Dr Corlett travelled undercover in Sri Lanka to hear the stories firsthand from people who say they’ve been targeted because of their links with the defeated Tamil Tigers.
“They hoisted me up with my torso hanging down,” describes ‘Narada’. Like all the people David met, he’s now too terrified to reveal his true identity.
“After that they used a hammer, they placed a book on my head and hit it with a hammer. It made me pass urine and defecate when they hit me like that.”
Others describe being attacked before deciding to try and escape Sri Lanka for Australia.
“Seven soldiers tied my hands and then they really raped me… they really raped me very badly,” ‘Anusha’ tells David. “I cried, then they hit me all over my body with the weapon.”
After her boat was intercepted on the way to Australia, she says her only assessment was a brief phone conversation with an Australian immigration official, in a process known as ‘enhanced screening’.
“When I’m doing the interview, three or four Sri Lankan passengers are with me. My personal things, I can’t tell them,” she says. “I’m scared, because I can’t trust these people one hundred per cent.”
She was then handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy, and says she now spends her life in fear of further attack and has to move constantly.
The Australian Department for Immigration and Border Protection has responded to the claims in Dateline's investigation with a statement, saying:
“Senator Carr sought and received assurances regarding similar allegations raised. We are relying on the same assurances and despite our request we have not received any information that would enable us to investigate these matters further."
“Persons seeking to arrive in Australia illegally by boat may be subject to an enhanced screening process, as also practiced by the previous government, to ensure compliance by Australia with our international obligations under relevant conventions."
The alleged abuse by Sri Lankan security forces has also come to the attention of international human rights experts.
“It’s absolutely brutal and I felt like a voyeur sometimes having to deal with what I would call a pornography of violence,” says Yasmin Sooka, a lawyer who compiled a report detailing a catalogue of abuse to 40 victims.
Her report is called ‘An Unfinished War’, referring to the long and bloody civil conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers, which ended five years ago.
“None of our witnesses actually know each other, none of them were actually interviewed in the same places by the same investigators,” she says.
“And yet if you read the accounts of torture and sexual violence, it is strikingly similar. That really gives support to my view that this is planned, it is systematic.”
“Every night, four to five men would take turns to come and rape me,” another victim ‘Romany’ tells David during his time filming in London.
“They used wires and current to burn me and I still have marks on my back. I experienced constant torture and abuse. I suffered so much.”
David also hears allegations of men being raped and racially abused, and in the case of ‘Bhanu’, who managed to reach Melbourne on his second attempt, having his fingernails torn out with pliers.
“They always hit me and they took this nail, and this nail, and this one, they removed,” he says.
“They tied my leg with wire and lifted me up with my head down,” he says of another torture session on the fourth floor of the CID building in Colombo.
“Everybody is afraid of that place. People never want to go there, because that is a very dangerous place, this is the number one torture place,” he says.
But Sri Lankan High Commissioner Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe refutes their claims.
"Any person with an ounce of common sense can read and understand certain languages of that documentary," he told Dateline. "It's trying to portray absolutely wrong picture of Sri Lanka and I totally reject that."
"The specifics are that it is obviously doctored and it has been timed at times when there are a lot of attempts by various quarters to damage Sri Lanka's image and bring out certain atrocities that are not true."
And he gave an assurance about the safety of those returning.
"I'm expecting anyone, that reporter, if he can bring any credible evidence and bring such person to my notice, I'll give you the guarantee, 100% guarantee, that particular person who is claiming that X, Y and Z has happened, will be absolutely safe," he said.
Watch the full story above, and read more on the Dateline website.