Sri Lanka: Veteran Tamil journalist feared abducted

New York, August 29, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by reports that veteran Sri Lankan journalist Nadarajah Guruparan is missing and feared abducted in Colombo today.

The Free Media Movement, a local press group, reported that Guruparan, a producer, left for work at the privately owned Tamil-language radio station Sooriyan, or Sun FM, around 4 a.m. Guruparan’s family later found his empty car near his house with the engine still running and his mobile phone on the driver’s seat, The Associated Press reported, citing a colleague who requested anonymity.

“We suspect he must have been abducted,” Reuters quoted a Sri Lankan police official, Deputy Police Inspector General Pujitha Jayasundara, as saying. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the disappearance, and Jayasundara said police do not know who may have been behind it. FMM leader Sunanda Deshapriya told CPJ that Colombo has been under high security in recent weeks, with numerous government roadblocks and patrols.

“We call on authorities to move quickly to locate Nadarajah Guruparan and return him to safety,” Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, said today. “The government must also take immediate action to ensure the safety of all Sri Lankan journalists.”

Tamil media have come under increasing pressure in recent months as the civil war between the secessionist Tamil groups and the government has rapidly escalated. Here are several recent cases:

• August 21. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, managing director of the Tamil-language Namathu Eelanadu newspaper and former member of parliament, was shot dead outside his home on the Jaffna Peninsula. See CPJ’s August 21 alert.

• August 19. Warehouses containing printing equipment of the Jaffna-based Tamil newspaper, Uthayan, were burned down. Four days earlier, an Uthayan driver was killed in Jaffna. See CPJ’s August 21 alert.

• July 31. Two Tamil-language dailies, Sudar Oli in Batticaloa district and Thinakkural in Amparai district, stopped distributing after receiving threatening phone calls. See CPJ’s July 31 CPJ alert.

• July 5. The body of freelance reporter Sampath Lakmal, a contributor to the Sinhala-language weekly Sathdina, was found in a southern suburb of Colombo. He had been shot after leaving his house to meet a contact. See CPJ’s July 5 alert.

• May 2. Five masked gunmen killed two employees and wounded at least two others, one seriously, in an attack on the Tamil-language daily Uthayan. The assailants sprayed the paper’s Jaffna office with automatic weapon fire. See CPJ’s May 2 alert.

• January 24. An unidentified gunman killed Tamil journalist Subramaniyam Sugitharajah, a part-time reporter for Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli. He was killed just weeks after reporting on the killing of five Tamil students in Trincomalee. See CPJ’s January 24 alert.

In an open letter on February 22, CPJ called on all parties in the civil conflict to recognize that even journalists who choose political sides are not valid targets for arrest or abuse. “We urge all sides to make a commitment to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their duties without fear of intimidation or reprisal,” CPJ said in its message to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Liberation Tigers of Lamil Eelam leader Anton Balasingham, and members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, who are overseeing the 2002 ceasefire. See CPJ’s February 22 letter.