Journalist receives death threat

Dear Major General Tellefsen:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to draw your attention to a death threat issued last week against journalist Ponniah Manikavasagam, a correspondent for the Tamil-language daily Virakesari who contributes regularly to the BBC. Manikavasagam lives in the town of Vavuniya and covers news across Sri Lanka’s northern region.

On the night of May 7, at around 10:05 p.m., Manikavasagam received a phone call warning him that, “We have been watching you. You are dancing too much. You will be killed very soon.” The journalist said that the caller, who was male and spoke in Tamil, refused to identify himself. The caller then made a crude remark suggesting that Manikavasagam supports the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and added, “When you are killed, you will know who we are.”

Police in Vavuniya were able to trace the call to the northwestern coastal town of Mannar, to an office run by the Varatharajah Perumal faction of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), a group that is strongly opposed to the Tigers.

The threatening call came just minutes after Manikavasagam had broadcast a report on the BBC’s Tamil service about efforts by foreign mediators to revive the faltering peace process. In the report, Manikavasagam used an audio clip of a statement made by Anton Balasingham, chief negotiator for the Tamil Tigers, who defended the group’s decision to suspend peace negotiations with the government.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ urges the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission to investigate who is behind this serious threat to Ponniah Manikavasagam’s life. As a part of the mission’s mandate to ensure that all parties to the conflict work toward a peaceful resolution of their differences, it is essential to support the right of journalists to report on all aspects of the negotiations without fear of reprisals.

We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and await your response.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director