Sri Lankan journalists in London receive threats

New York, March 25, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is very concerned for the safety of journalists working for the London-based Tamil Broadcasting Corporation (TBC). Journalists there have received numerous death threats in recent weeks, according to TBC staff and other CPJ sources.

After the station began broadcasting in the United Kingdom and in Sri Lanka on March 1, the Voice of Tigers (VOT), the official broadcaster of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), issued a report condemning the station and its journalists as “traitors.” The VOT reports were rebroadcast on a local Tamil station in the United Kingdom. Soon after, TBC journalists began receiving anonymous death threats.

During one live broadcast of a call-in show, two callers threatened the life of V. Ramraj, TBC’s program director. An anonymous caller also threatened Ramraj’s wife, saying she “will be wearing a white sari soon,” implying that she will soon be widowed. Direct threats have also been made against program presenter Sivanthy Sivasubramaniyam, political analyst V. Sivalingam, and volunteers who help run the station.

On March 22, a caller demanded that the TBC stop broadcasting for 10 days, or Ramraj and Sivasubramaniyam would be “finished,” according to TBC sources. In the run-up to national elections in Sri Lanka scheduled for April 2, TBC has interviewed both anti- and pro-LTTE candidates and political figures.

Staff at TBC have informed the local South Harrow police station about the threats and have taken steps to trace the calls. No suspects have been named so far.

The TBC was first launched in 1999 by Ramraj, a former anti-LTTE Tamil activist living in London. After about two years, the station closed for financial reasons. It was relaunched with private investment and began broadcasting on March 1, 2004. Through an arrangement with the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, a government-owned broadcaster, TBC is able to broadcast one hour of their programming every day in Sri Lanka.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government reached a cease-fire agreement with the LTTE, which waged a 19-year battle for an independent homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority. A recent split in the leadership of the LTTE has threatened the cease-fire.

“CPJ urges British authorities to ensure the safety of the TBC journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Physical threats should never be tolerated as a means to intimidate journalists.”