Hunger-striker to sue newspapers over claims that he ate Big Macs
A hunger striker who held a 23-day fast in Parliament Square last year in protest at the Sri Lanka's offensive against the Tamil Tigers is suing two newspapers over claims that he secretly ate burgers during his vigil.
Parameswaran Subramanyam, a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee who now lives in south London, has issued proceedings against the Daily Mail and The Sun over articles they ran last October claiming that he was secretly given Big Macs by his supporters.
The hunger strike in May 2009 escalated an ongoing protest outside Parliament and focused international attention on the Sri Lankan government's bombardment of civilian populations during their final offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The military offensive eventually crushed the Tamil Tigers, bringing to an end decades of civil war. But the Sri Lankan government was strongly condemned by international allies and human rights groups alike for failing to allow civilians caught up in the fighting to escape.
During the peak of the protests, thousands of British Tamils poured into Parliament Square to blockade traffic, chant slogans and call on the British government to do more to pressure the Sri Lankans into calling a halt to the offensive. Tamils kept a 24-hour vigil outside Parliament for more than a month.
Suggestions that the hunger strike was not as honest as it seemed appeared five months after the protests had ended. In a piece which ran in the Mail on 9 October 2009 headlined "Hunger Striker's £7m Big Mac", the Mail quoted an unnamed police official who said surveillance teams had seen the protesters sneaking food into the tent where Mr Subramanyam, 29, and fellow hunger striker Sivatharsan Sivakumaravel were staying.
The claims were later repeated in The Sun newspaper in an article headlined "Hunger Striker was Lovin' it", and were picked up by newspapers around the world.
The allegations were strongly denied by Mr Subramanyam who spent five days in hospital once he stopped his hunger strike. His supporters say he was frequently checked on by paramedics and doctors who would have been able to spot if he had secretly been eating.
Lawyers from the firm Carter Ruck, which is acting on behalf of Mr Subramanyam, say their client asked for an apology and retraction from the newspapers in November but the requests were rejected by both papers. In a statement released yesterday, Mr Subramanyam said: "In light of the newspapers' false allegations about me and their refusal to apologise, I have been forced to issue libel proceedings against them. The false allegations have had a devastating effect on my life, to the extent that I have been ostracised by the Tamil community and had my life threatened."
Both The Sun and the Daily Mail declined to comment.
The British government did publicly criticise the Sri Lankan government's conduct in the war – a move which angered hawks in Colombo. A fragile peace has since taken over the island but there is widespread anger among Tamils at the tens of thousands of civilians still being held in internment camps by the Sri Lankan military. Tamil groups in Britain say they will plan a series of one-year anniversary protests to highlight what they regard as the ongoing suffering of their people.