CPJ condemns murder of veteran Tamil journalist

New York, April 29, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the brutal killing of leading Tamil journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram, who was abducted yesterday and found dead this morning near the capital, Colombo, from gunshot wounds to the head.

Four unidentified men forced Sivaram into a jeep at 10:30 last night 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 today 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.

“This audacious and brutal crime is an attack on free speech in Sri Lanka,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The brazen abduction and execution of a veteran journalist sends a chilling message to others in the Tamil media. We call on all sides to respect the rights and safety of journalists, and we urge authorities to follow through on their pledges to thoroughly investigate this cold-blooded 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.