Police raid home of journalist

New York, May 4, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned by yesterday’s police raid on the home of Dharmeratnam Sivaram, a veteran journalist and columnist, in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.

Sivaram edits Tamilnet (www.tamilnet.com), an online news service that covers Sri Lankan affairs with special emphasis on news of interest to the Tamil community. He also writes frequently for the private Daily Mirror and its affiliate, The Sunday Times,

On Monday, May 3, a group of about 40 police officers who said they were looking for weapons searched Sivaram’s home. Sivaram was not there at the time, but his family says they felt threatened, and the journalist fears that his life could be in danger, local sources told CPJ.

It is not clear whether the police had a search warrant. Police searches of private residences in Colombo have been extremely rare since a cease-fire was signed between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in February 2002, sources said.

Tamilnet is widely acknowledged as an indispensable source of information about the long-running civil conflict between government forces and the LTTE. Local observers told CPJ that the raid may have come in retaliation for Sivaram’s recent reporting on alleged links between the government and a breakaway LTTE faction. The raid has sparked fears of a government crackdown on the country’s Tamil and independent journalists.

“We fear that this raid may have come in retaliation for Dharmeratnam Sivaram’s reporting,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Sri Lankan authorities to investigate this incident, and to ensure that all journalists are able to practice their profession without fear of harassment.”

In 2001, CPJ condemned accusations, published without any substantive evidence in several state-owned newspapers, that Sivaram was a spy for the LTTE. The charges seriously endangered Sivaram and his family. See CPJ’s letter of June 2, 2001.