The family of a man arrested by the Sri Lankan police last month after he is said to have claimed knowledge about a purported plot to kill Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, says he should be released immediately and given medical treatment for a mental condition that he has had since the mid-1990s.
“This is a fabricated case. My elder brother is a victim of political insecurity in Sri Lanka,” said the 52-year-old brother of the man who has been identified by Sri Lankan authorities as M Thomas. Read in Tamil.
The brother, who spoke on condition that he would not be named, said anyone who interacted with Thomas would know that he is not of sound mind. He also has a physical disability, he said.
A B.Com graduate, Thomas was arrested on September 23 from the home of a self-styled Sri Lankan anti-corruption activist, Namal Kumara, outside Colombo. Namal Kumara had earlier created a sensation with revelations of an alleged plot to kill Sirisena and former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Diplomatic circles had to engage in some firefighting after reports emerged last week that at a Cabinet meeting, President Sirisena expressed fears of a bid to assassinate him and made references to the arrested Indian and the Indian intelligence agency R&AW.
On October 17, President Sirisena called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to denounce the media reports as “false”. The President’s office and the government also put out no less than four clarifications on the matter. However, Thomas continues to remain in custody and is being detained under anti-terrorism laws.
His brother, a retired civil engineer who lives with his wife and son in a one-room apartment in a distant Mumbai suburb, said he has been in touch with Sri Lankan and Indian authorities to find out more about his brother’s present condition.
The brother said he wasn’t in regular contact with Thomas and that they last spoke a week before his arrest. “Thomas then said his life was in danger and that he was surrounded by enemies,” he said.
He said that on September 25, Indian officials visited him and told him that Thomas had been arrested in Sri Lanka for overstaying his tourist visa. He said the Indian officials wanted to see Thomas’s Aadhaar card.
The brother told The Indian Express that Thomas, who had exhibited “severe symptoms of mental illness” since an accident in 1997 in which he sustained a head injury, “needs treatment, not jail”.
He said that Thomas worked as an office assistant-cum-accountant for several years in the Mumbai office of the Airports Authority of India and used to live in Andheri. In 1992, he shifted to an AAI office in Kerala.
For reasons the brother said were unclear to him, the AAI gave his job to Thomas’s wife. The husband and wife have been divorced for several years and have a son.
The brother said he last saw Thomas in 2016, after nearly a decade. In 2007, the brother, who was then working in the Middle East, got him a job there, “but he quit after a few months”.
After that, he met Thomas only in 2016, when he showed up at his Mumbai house and lived there for a few months. “He had a property matter in the south. He owned a seven-room bungalow there and feared that his wife would take the property away. We travelled together to Kerala to clear his property tax,” the brother said.
Thomas, the brother said, disappeared soon after, and the next he heard from him was in the beginning of 2017, when he called to say he was in Sri Lanka. “He sounded happy. He asked me to come to Colombo,” said his younger brother, adding that he never asked him how he was supporting himself, where he lived or what he did.
In the months that followed, the two kept in touch through “missed calls”.
“I knew he had no money, so sometimes I would call him back when I got a missed call from him. When I spoke to him last, in the third week of September, he said he had a lot of enemies. I told him to come back, or to report to the police or the Indian embassy there. As usual, our conversation ended abruptly,” the brother said.
The brother said he was in touch with Indian and Sri Lankan officials. “But I haven’t had a chance to speak to my brother yet. Indian officials were also not allowed to meet him. They asked me to visit Colombo but I am unwell. I request them to take his illness into consideration and drop all false charges against him. If they cannot release him immediately, I hope they will make sure that he gets mental health treatment,” the brother said.
He said he had asked the Sri Lankan authorities to send a photograph of Thomas so that he can be sure that it is his brother they have arrested, as “his passport was stolen a few years ago, and he got a new one made only two years ago”.