Held without charges, man will go free
A federal appeals court ordered the Sri Lankan freed after four years.
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- After more than four years in a U.S. detention center, Ahilan Nadarajah will soon gain the freedom he sought when he fled Sri Lanka and the government forces there that he says repeatedly jailed and tortured him.
He had reached the United States in October 2001 only to be detained on the same accusations that almost got him killed in his home country: He was suspected of being a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Nadarajah denies the claims, and immigration judges have twice granted him asylum. But the federal government refused to release him.
The latest order came Friday from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, telling the U.S. government it was violating federal law by continuing to hold him even though he wasn't criminally charged and couldn't be deported in the foreseeable future. His lawyers said they now expect him to be freed in a few days.
"I lost my time and my life, and I almost lost my mind, too," Nadarajah said in a phone interview from the Otay Mesa detention center, at the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego. "It's not fair. They put me in jail without reason."
Justice Department spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said the decision was being reviewed but would not elaborate. It wasn't immediately clear if the government would appeal the court's decision.
Nadarajah, an ethnic Tamil who turns 26 on Wednesday, came from a family of farmers in northern Sri Lanka, the island nation of 20 million off the coast of India.
In 1995, the Sri Lankan army bombed the area, killing Nadarajah's older brother and forcing the family to relocate. When they later returned, Nadarajah was accused of being a member of the Tamil Tigers, a group that was fighting for an independent state for the ethnic minority on Sri Lanka.
Nadarajah says he was repeatedly jailed and tortured by government forces there that pistol-whipped him, forced his head into a plastic bag with gasoline and left him hanging upside down for hours. Finally, he got a passport and exit visa from a smuggler and traveled through Thailand, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico before he was arrested at the U.S. border Oct. 27, 2001.
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