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IV. LTTE Control of Hindu Temples in the West

Temples are money-making places. If they take control, they have control of the money, they can control the surplus, they can control the people coming there.
—trustee of a Hindu temple, London, October 2005

The majority of Tamils are Hindu. For many members of the Tamil diaspora, Hindu temples provide not only a place of worship, but also a focal point for social and community activities and an avenue for charitable giving. The Toronto area has approximately forty Hindu temples attended by Sri Lankan Tamils; London has twenty-two. Because the temples provide both ready access to the Tamil community and to a potential source of funds, the LTTE has sought control over temple events, management, and revenue.

The LTTE’s influence is apparent in many Hindu temples in the West. Temples may display photographs of Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, and sell LTTE flags, CDs of Prabakaran’s speeches, or videos and DVDs promoting the LTTE. The temples may also collect money for the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization52 or other LTTE front groups. At one temple in London, all attendees reportedly are told to make out “standing orders” (monthly pledges) for the LTTE, which are then collected by the British Tamil Association.53

A trustee for a Hindu temple in the Toronto area told Human Rights Watch that in late 2005, LTTE representatives approached his temple several times, asking for Cdn$1 million as part of the recent LTTE fundraising drive. The trustee said when the men first approached him, they identified themselves as representatives from the intelligence group of Pottu Amman (the intelligence chief for the LTTE) and said that “We are going to declare Tamil Eelam [i.e. independence—see below], so we need the funds immediately.”54

Several sources also described systematic efforts by the LTTE to take over the management structures of local temples. The temple trustee described the “capture” of another temple in Toronto: “They got LTTE supporters in as members. Then when they had a majority, they could elect the trustees.”55

In one case in Australia, the Tamil Tigers reportedly tried to take control of a Hindu temple in Perth and use it for fundraising purposes. The Tigers’ efforts led to a government investigation, and the case was cited by the government as an argument for tighter controls on the LTTE. The Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs subsequently acted to freeze the assets of the LTTE and other entities associated with terrorism in late 2001.56 The following year, Subramaniam Muthulingam, a member of the temple’s management committee, was stabbed to death by two unknown Tamil youths while visiting his family in Colombo. Political killings in Sri Lanka are rarely investigated, and the perpetrators in this case were never identified or charged. However, according reports by human rights groups, Tamils who knew Muthulingam believed that the murder was linked to Muthulingam’s vocal criticism of the LTTE and his efforts to resist the Tiger’s takeover of the temple in Australia.57

In another well-publicized case, Rajasingham Jayadevan and Arumugam Kandiah Vivekananthan, director and secretary, respectively, of a private Hindu temple in London, were detained for several weeks by the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka in early 2005 until they agreed to hand over control of the temple to a group aligned with the LTTE.58

Jayadevan had lived in the U.K. for over twenty-five years, and before his detention was a strong supporter of the LTTE. In 1999 he helped Anton Balasingam, the LTTE’s primary political representative and negotiator outside of Sri Lanka, gain permission to leave Sri Lanka and get medical care in Norway. In 1999 and 2000, his temple raised funds for LTTE humanitarian projects and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization. When the U.K. government designated the LTTE as a terrorist group in late 2001, Jayadevan independently initiated an application to the UK High Court for a judicial review of the Terrorism Act, arguing that the proscription scheme violated the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association under the European Convention on Human Rights. However, his effort was not sanctioned by the LTTE and resulted in criticism from Balasingam and the pro-LTTE media.

Jayadevan also angered the LTTE when he resisted LTTE efforts to take control of his temple, Eelapatheeswarar Aalayam. At the end of 2004, he traveled to northern Sri Lanka for a pre-arranged meeting with LTTE leaders to discuss the difficulties he was encountering with the LTTE in London. After he arrived he and his colleague Vivekananthan were initially housed at LTTE guesthouses in Kilinochchi, but after several days they transferred to an LTTE compound. Jayadevan said, “We were lured into a trap and detained in a cunning way. We were kept in a derelict building with two rooms. It was dirty, with filthy linen, and cobwebs. We found a dead rat in the water tank.”59

They were guarded by four LTTE soldiers, and on several occasions were questioned at length about their activities in London by representatives of the LTTE finance and intelligence units. They were allowed no contact with their family, and given only very basic medical care.

After six weeks, Jayadevan and Vivekananthan were finally told that Vivekananthan would be released, but only after both men signed papers authorizing the transfer of the London temple to an organization specified by the LTTE. Once the papers were signed, they were told, Vivekananthan would be released to return to London to execute the transfer, and once the transfer was complete, Jayadevan would also be released.

Jeyadevan said, “We wrote the letter in Tamil to LTTE leader Prabakaran. We felt we had no choice. Our concern was our release.” At this point, Jeyadevan had been on a limited hunger strike, eating only one meal a day for fifteen days. After Vivekananthan’s release on February 20, Jeyadevan went on a full hunger strike for an additional fifteen days. He was taken to a medical center, where doctors told the LTTE that he should be taken to a hospital in Colombo. He said that, instead, he was returned to detention.

On March 2, after returning to London, Vivekananthan signed a formal agreement to transfer control of the temple to Sivayogam, the organization designated by the LTTE.60 When he called the LTTE to confirm that the transfer was complete, however, the LTTE responded that they were conducting further investigations of Jayadevan’s activity and would not release him.

Vivekananthan and Jayadevan’s family then went public, reporting the detention to the London police, the British High Commission in Colombo, members of the U.K. parliament, and the media. Following mounting media and political pressure, Jayadevan was finally released on March 12, 2005.

Joined by four of the temple’s original trustees, the temple’s landlord challenged the transfer of the temple in U.K. court. The action prompted several threats against Vivekananthan and temple trustees. On March 24, a man came to Vivekananthan’s shop in London and told him, “If you take the temple back, we will shoot you both.” Later, Vivekananthan said he was told, “If you go to the court as a witness with the landlord, when you go to the hearing, you have to support Seevaratnam [Nagendram Seevaratnam, the chairman of Sivayogam]. If you don’t support him, we have instructions from the LTTE to bump you off.” One of the other trustees was told, “You let the LTTE down badly. The LTTE is not happy. They will deal with you.”61

At a hearing on April 7, 2005, the high court ruled that the transfer of the temple was not valid, and returned control of the temple to its original trustees. Sivayogam was ordered to pay £35,000 in legal fees. Since the return of the temple, Jayadevan and the other trustees report that they have received several further threats. In one incident in December, a man vandalized the temple. Jayadevan said, “He went berserk by tearing down the notice board and damaging the door with a traffic cone. He was saying that he was a Black Tiger and will teach us a lesson.”62 In mid-January 2006, handwritten posters in Tamil were posted throughout the neighborhood near the temple, stating that “Jayadevan is a traitor to the cause and will be taught a lesson.”63

Some temples have taken proactive steps to avoid LTTE control. For example, one public temple in the Toronto area froze its membership and adopted a policy that individuals could only become members after volunteering for a period of three years.64

[52] The Tamil Rehabilitation Organization was organized by the LTTE in 1985 initially to assist Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka taking refuge in South India. It eventually changed its stated objective to focus on the humanitarian needs of persons affected by war in the North and East.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., October 2005.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[56] Charter of the United Nations (Anti-Terrorism – Persons and Entities) List 2001 (No. 2). The Minister of Foreign Affairs listed twenty-five entities, including the LTTE, in accordance with paragraph 1(c) of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which calls on states to “freeze without delay funds and other financial assets or economic resources” of persons or entities associated with terrorist acts. See dec2001.html.

[57] University Teachers for Human Rights, Special Report No. 15, “The Australian Scene,” October 4, 2002.

[58] Human Rights Watch interviews, London, U.K., October 2005.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., October 2005.

[60] Documents on file at Human Rights Watch.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., October 2005.

[62] “Black Tigers” are special LTTE operatives who engage in suicide bombings.

[63] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, January 30, 2006.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

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