The Committee to Protect Journalists, which is investigating the motive for the attack, called on Norwegian peace envoy Eric Solheim to raise issues of journalist security in meetings with government and Tamil rebel leaders this week. Recent violence between security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has put the media, particularly Tamil journalists, at great risk. Solheim is in Sri Lanka in hopes of arranging peace talks between recently elected President Mahinda Rajapakse and LTTE leader Vallupillai Prabhakaran.
Sugitharajah, a part-time reporter for Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, was killed just weeks after he reported on the January 2 killing of five Tamil students in Trincomalee, according to news Web site TamilNet. Military spokesmen initially said that the men were killed by their own grenade in a botched attack on the army, but Sudar Oli and other pro-Tamil nationalist media reported that the men had died of gunshot wounds. The government has ordered a probe into the deaths.
"Mr. Sugitharajah was a fearless reporter and we believe he was killed to demoralize journalists working in the northeast," Sudar Oli managing director E. Saravanapavam told The Associated Press.
The offices of Sudar Oli were attacked repeatedly last year; on August 29, 2005, a grenade attack at the printing press killed a security guard. Just days earlier, activists from the People's Liberation Front (JVP) political party turned over to police a photographer for the newspaper and accused him of spying for the LTTE. The newspaper and its Jaffna-based sister publication Uthayan have come under attack by both LTTE and anti-LTTE forces in recent political violence.
"We deplore this brutal attack, which comes amid escalating violence that has repeatedly targeted Tamil journalists," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. "We urge government and rebel forces to respect the rights of all journalists to report the news at this crucial time, and we call on peace envoy Eric Solheim to make the issue of journalist security a priority in this week's talks."
Two journalists, senior Tamil journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram and popular Tamil broadcaster Relangi Selvarajah, were killed in Sri Lanka in 2005.