SRI LANKA


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How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press



APRIL 29, 2005
Posted: April 29, 2005

Dharmeratnam Sivaram, TamilNet and Daily Mirror
KILLED—CONFIRMED

Sivaram was abducted on the night of April 28 and found dead the next morning from gunshot wounds to the head.

Four unidentified men forced Sivaram into a jeep as he left a restaurant directly across from the Bambalapitya police station in the capital, according to witness accounts. Police told The Associated Press that they received an anonymous call early the next morning giving the location of Sivaram's body in Talangama, several miles outside of Colombo. The TamilNet news Web site reported that his body was found in a high security area behind the country's parliament building.

A founding member and contributor to the TamilNet and a military and political columnist for the English language Daily Mirror, Sivaram wrote sympathetically about the rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Police searched his house twice last year looking for weapons, but did not find anything to incriminate him.

The LTTE split into two warring factions last spring after a rebel leader known as Colonel Karuna broke away to form his own rival army in eastern Sri Lanka. A cycle of violence has since escalated from the east throughout the country, with the warring Tamil factions going on killing sprees that target each other's alleged supporters, including journalists.

A pro-LTTE Tamil lawmaker, Amirthanathan Adaikkalanathan, told The Associated Press that Sivaram's last article for the Tamil-language daily Virekasari criticized the rebel leader Karuna. Sivaram had received death threats in recent weeks, according to exiled Tamil journalists.

The Sri Lankan government condemned the murder, and promised to find those behind the killing.

In May 2004, unidentified assailants ambushed, shot, and killed another senior Tamil journalist, Aiyuthurai Nadesan, in the eastern city Batticaloa. In reports on the TamilNet Web site, the LTTE accused the Sri Lankan army and members of the Karuna faction of killing Nadesan. No arrests have been made in that case.

Bala Nadarajah Iyer—a veteran activist, writer, and editor affiliated with the Tamil group the Eelam People's Democratic Party, which backed the Karuna faction—was gunned down outside his house in Colombo just weeks later. The murder was blamed on the LTTE, according to international news reports and local sources.

Peace talks between Tamil rebels and the government have stalled since a ceasefire agreement was signed in February 2002.


MAY 10, 2005
Posted: May 17, 2005

Victor Ivan, Ravaya and Free Media Movement
Sunanda Deshaprita, Free Media Movement
THREATENED

Two journalists with the Sri Lankan press freedom organization Free Media Movement (FMM) received death threats at the group's headquarters in the capital, Colombo.

Ivan, editor of the Sinhala-language tabloid Ravaya and FMM organizer, and Deshaprita, FMM spokesman and freelance journalist, received letters from an alleged Sinhalese extremist group calling itself "Theraputtabhaya force. The letters, signed by a person identified only as Commander Mayadunne, threatened all "traitors" and said they should be ready to become "fertilizer of the motherland."

The group also claimed responsibility for the April 28 murder of Sivaram, who was a founding member of the TamilNet news Web site and a columnist for the English language Daily Mirror who wrote sympathetically about the rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Local sources say that the FMM may be a target for extremist groups because it condemned Sivaram's murder and has supported calls for a negotiated peace to end Sri Lanka's longstanding civil war.



MAY 22, 2005
Posted: June 7, 2005

TBC Radio
ATTACKED

The offices of the London-based exiled Tamil news radio Tamil Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) were broken into and looted in the early morning hours, forcing the station to suspend programming, according to the station's program director V. Ramaraj.

Studio equipment was stolen, and the uplink facility was severed, forcing TBC off the air. Ramaraj claimed that members of the Sri Lankan rebel group the Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) were responsible for looting the station because of TBC's critical reporting about the LTTE.

Ramaraj said that he had received death threats in the weeks prior to the robbery, and that the station had also been threatened.

Tensions increased this spring for journalists in Sri Lanka and in the exiled Tamil community following the murder of veteran Tamil journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram in April. A split within the LTTE last year has divided Tamil journalists both in Sri Lanka and abroad and started a cycle of violence in which both sides target journalists from the opposing camp.

The station had been threatened before. In March 2004, TBC and its journalists received anonymous death threats soon after it began broadcasting in the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka. At that time, the LTTE's official radio Voice of the Tigers issued a report condemning the station and calling the TBC "traitors".


JULY 26, 2005
Posted: August 9, 2005

Iqbal Athas, The Sunday Times
THREATENED

Speaking to a closed meeting of 1,000 top military and police officials in Colombo, President Chandrika Kumaratunga accused Athas of publishing sensitive information harmful to Sri Lanka's national security, sources told local news reporters.

Kumaratunga threatened to use the Official Secrets Act against Athas and said the journalist had reported and exaggerated "gossip." Athas, a veteran defense correspondent for the popular weekly The Sunday Times, reported the president's remarks in a July 31 column.

In his column, Athas said that the president's remarks followed several articles that focused on government plans to purchase Sir Gallahad, a logistics landing craft, from Britain's Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Athas said in a July 10 column that the purchase would be a waste of public money.

The Official Secrets Act allows the minister of defense to prohibit access to certain locations and facilities, and to bar photography and reporting about such secret information. Under the law, those convicted of gathering secret information can be subject to 14 years in prison.

No journalist has ever been charged under the act, but local sources told CPJ that the president's comments were troubling and could have a chilling effect on reporting.

Athas told CPJ he fears for his safety and that the president's comments in front of military personnel were meant to intimidate him. Athas has been threatened before, notably in 1998, when gunmen entered his home and tried to abduct him. He was honored with CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 1994.

AUGUST 12, 2005
Posted October 31, 2005

Relangi Selvarajah, Sri Lanka
Rupavahini Corp.
KILLED—UNCONFIRMED

Popular Tamil broadcaster Relangi Selvarajah and her husband, a political activist, were killed by unidentified gunmen in Colombo on the same day that Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka's foreign minister, was assassinated. Political leaders blamed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for all three killings, charges the LTTE denied.

The attackers shot Selvarajah, 44, and her husband Senathurai in the office where they ran a travel agency. Sri Lanka's Sunday Times reported that the LTTE had criticized Selvarajah for broadcasting anti-LTTE programs.

Selvarajah was a radio and television host for 20 years, presenting news programs for the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and recently for the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corp., according to the Free Media Movement, a local press freedom organization.

Local newspapers reported that Selvarajah also produced the SLBC program "Ithaya Veenai," a program known for criticizing the LTTE, and allegedly funded by the opposition Tamil political party, the Eelam People's Democratic Party.

Selvarajah's husband, Senathurai, was affiliated with the formerly militant and now mainstream group, the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), according to local news reports and sources. PLOTE is critical of the LTTE; the LTTE accuses PLOTE of attacking its members, according to The Associated Press.

Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror quoted police as saying that they suspected the couple may have been murdered because of Selvarajah's anti-LTTE programs. But their connection to PLOTE also raised the possibility that their killing may have been part of a larger cycle of violence, and could be connected to the April murder of well-known pro-LTTE Tamil journalist Dharamaratnam Sivaram, local sources told CPJ. Sivaram was a former member of PLOTE who defected to the LTTE.

Political and ethnic factions began a series of revenge killings across the country last year when a Tamil rebel leader known as Karuna split from the LTTE.

The government declared a state of emergency on August 13 and President Chandrika Kumaratunga accused the LTTE of killing Kadirgamar, a critic of the LTTE.


OCTOBER 16, 2005
October 18, 2005

Sunday Leader, Midweek Leader, Irudina
ATTACKED

At around 8 p.m., as many as 10 men entered a building in Ratmalana, south of the capital Colombo, where the printing press is housed for the English-language weeklies Sunday Leader and Midweek Leader, and the Sinhala-language weekly Irudina, Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickramatunga told CPJ. The armed men set fire to bundles of newspaper in the printing offices and warned the factory manager to stop publishing them, according to Wickramatunga. The armed men hit the factory manager and stole his mobile phone and some cash.

The fire was doused before it could do serious damage to the printing press.

Wickramatunga said that a police report was filed and the newspapers planned to continue publishing. He told CPJ that he was aware of no threats prior to Sunday's incident.

The Sunday Leader and Irudina are known for their critical reporting on the government. CPJ has documented several threats and attacks in recent years against the Sunday Leader editor, who requested police protection in May after a government official publicly accused him of being a "terrorist."

The Sunday Leader recently published a series investigating allegations that the prime minister had misappropriated funds intended for tsunami relief.


August 30, 2005
Posted: November 8, 2005

Sudar Oli
ATTACKED

Staff and offices of the Tamil-language newspaper Sudar Oli came under a spate of attacks. On August 29, two men lobbed grenades into the building housing its printing press, killing a guard and injuring two other staff members. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the attack as an assault on freedom of expression. On August 21 two grenades were tossed into the paper's advertising office but failed to explode.

On August 30 two parliamentary reporters were assaulted while they waited for a bus, according to the Colombo-based Free Media Movement (FMM) and international news reports. One was seriously injured. A photographer was set upon and robbed on August 23 while covering a rally of the People's Liberation Front (JVP) to protest killings by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). JVP activists turned the photographer over to the police on suspicion of being an LTTE member. He was released the next day.

Sudar Oli
and its Jaffna-based sister publication Uthayan have come under attack by both LTTE and anti-LTTE forces in Sri Lanka's civil conflict. A top leader of the JVP issued a public condemnation of the newspaper, accusing it of having LTTE ties. Increased political violence has put Tamil journalists at particular risk.

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