Political activist and writer killed

New York, August 17, 2004—Amid increased political violence, Bala Nadarajah Iyer, a journalist, writer, and political activist with the opposition Tamil group the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), was shot and killed yesterday, August 16, by unidentified assailants in the capital, Colombo.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is investigating whether the murder was related to his journalistic work.

Iyer’s murder was the latest in a series of politically motivated killings linked to the main Tamil rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to international news reports and local journalists.

Iyer, a veteran activist and writer, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle when he left home for work in the southern Wellawatte area of the capital on the morning of Monday, August 16, according to local police. He died instantly at the scene, and police launched an investigation into the murder. The EPDP’s official news Web site reported that the LTTE had threatened Iyer before his murder.

Iyer was a media officer and a senior member of the EPDP who worked on the editorial board of the Tamil-language weekly Thinamurasu and wrote a political column for the state-run Tamil daily Thinakaran. He was known for criticizing the LTTE’s human rights abuses and had worked closely with Tamil political groups, including the LTTE, over the last 20 years, according to local journalists.

Tensions between the two rival Tamil groups flared in the spring after the EPDP supported a breakaway faction of the LTTE headed by a rebel leader known as Karuna. The LTTE has targeted the EPDP in recent days; in July, Douglas Devandra, a leader of the EPDP and a government minister, escaped an assassination attempt by an LTTE member.

CPJ is investigating the murder of another journalist who was killed in Sri Lanka earlier this year: Aiyathurai Nadesan, a veteran reporter with the Tamil-language daily Virakesari, was shot and killed on May 31 by unidentified assailants in eastern Sri Lanka.

After a 20-year civil war, Sri Lanka’s government reached a cease-fire agreement with the separatist LTTE in February 2002. However, the current peace agreement remains fragile, and talks between the two sides have stalled.