TV reporter slain in northern Sri Lanka

New York, May 29, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the brutal murder of a television journalist in the conflict-ridden Jaffna peninsula in northern Sri Lanka on Wednesday. 

Paranirupasingham Devakumar, Jaffna correspondent for the Maharaja Television news channel News 1st, was stabbed to death by a group of unidentified people on Wednesday evening, according to Susil Kindelpitiya, a Maharaja Television news director who spoke with CPJ by telephone this morning.

The attackers also killed Mahendran Warden, a friend of the journalist who was traveling with him by motorbike in a government-controlled area, according to a report published on the News 1st Web site. Devakumar and Warden were returning home when the attack occurred, news reports said.

The motive for the killings was unclear, Kindelpitiya told CPJ. He praised Devakumar’s independent reporting. “He covered everything, including a lot of illegal happenings like killings and abductions, without fear,” Kindelpitiya said.

Sunanda Deshapriya, a leader of the local press freedom group the Free Media Movement, told CPJ today, “We think [the killing] is directly related to his journalism.” A police investigation is under way, according to news reports.

“The murder of Paranirupasingham Devakumar is a loss for the journalism profession but it’s an even greater loss for the people of Sri Lanka who have been deprived of one of the few remaining sources of information about the conflict in the Jaffna peninsula,” said Joel Simon,  executive director of CPJ. “The Sri Lankan government must bring the killers to justice and create conditions that allow journalists to work with some measure of security.”

Devakumar was one of few remaining journalists reporting from the peninsula, which is a focal point of the civil war between the predominantly Sinhalese government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) claiming territory for an ethnic Tamil homeland. Conflict has worsened in recent years and a 2002 cease-fire agreement abandoned in January. Journalists are barred from war zones. “Working as a journalist in Jaffna is very difficult,” Kindelpitiya told CPJ. “I’ve no idea how we are going to proceed there. If we can’t find someone new we are really in trouble.”