Tamil broadcaster killed with husband

New York, August 16, 2005—A popular Tamil broadcaster and her husband, a political activist, were killed by unidentified gunmen in Colombo on August 12, the day Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated.

Political leaders blamed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for all three killings, charges the LTTE denied.

The attackers shot dead Relangi Selvarajah, 44, and her husband Senathurai in the office where they ran a travel agency. Police have made no arrests. Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times reported that the LTTE had criticized Selvarajah for broadcasting anti-LTTE programs.

Selvarajah was a radio and television host for twenty years, presenting news programs for the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and recently for the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, according to the Free Media Movement, a local press freedom organization.

Local newspapers reported that Selvarajah also produced the SLBC program “Ithaya Veenai”, a program known for criticizing the LTTE, and allegedly funded by the opposition Tamil political party the Eelam People’s Democratic Party.

Ms. Selvarajah’s husband Senathurai was affiliated with the formerly militant and now mainstream group the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam, (PLOTE), according to local news reports and sources. PLOTE is critical of the LTTE, and the LTTE accuses PLOTE of attacking its members, according to The Associated Press.

Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror quoted police as saying that they suspected the couple may have been murdered because of Ms. Selvarajah’s anti-LTTE programs. But their connection to PLOTE also raised the possibility that their killing may have been part of a larger cycle of violence, and could be connected to the April murder of well-known pro-LTTE Tamil journalist Dharamaratnam Sivaram, local sources told CPJ. Sivaram was a former member of PLOTE who defected to the LTTE.

Political and ethnic factions began a series of revenge killings across the country last year when a Tamil rebel leader known as Karuna split from the LTTE.

“We deplore this attack,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on the authorities to investigate the killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

The government declared a state of emergency on August 13 and President Chandrika Kumaratunga accused the LTTE of killing Kadirgamar, a critic of the LTTE.

Police say they arrested two Tamils filming near Kadirgamar’s home two weeks before his murder, Reuters reported.