A flag for Sri Lanka's secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. (AP/Markus Schreiber)
A flag for Sri Lanka's secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Tamil journalist bound, shot, during Sri Lankan civil war

New York, June 20, 2011–Video footage of a Tamil journalist apparently executed in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war underscores the need for an urgent international inquiry, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

The U.K.’s Channel 4 has screened amateur footage of the body of Tamil news presenter Shoba, indicating that she was shot and killed during the government’s final military surge in the northeast. Shoba, who went by one name, also reported under the name Isaipriya or Isaippiriya for the media division of the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to Channel 4 and the pro-LTTE TamilNet news website. “Her role was as a journalist rather than a direct fighter,” Channel 4 reported.

The footage, shown June 14 in the documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” shows Shoba’s body, half-naked with her hands bound, among the corpses of Tamil Tiger rebels apparently captured, and executed by Sri Lankan government forces. The manner of Shoba’s death is not shown, although several point-blank executions of bound prisoners were filmed in the same location. Channel 4 reporter Jon Snow said in the documentary that Shoba’s body was found among some that “appear to have been raped or sexually assaulted, and then murdered.” 

Channel 4 first released extracts of the footage, which it dates to May 18 or 19, 2009, in December 2010. TamilNet reported relatives had identified her as the woman shown. The Sri Lankan government denounced the videos as fake, according to the documentary. “The footage has since been authenticated by the United Nations, though the Sri Lankan government refuses to accept that,” Channel 4 says in the film.

“Channel 4 has provided solid evidence that Shoba was murdered and that a war crime may have been committed,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Moreover, Shoba was reportedly working as a journalist. It is essential that an international inquiry make use of this and any other evidence to investigate and prosecute those responsible.”

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense website lists Shoba as Lieutenant Colonel Issei Piriya, a Tamil Tigers communications leader killed during battle by its 53 Division troops on May 18, one day before the government announced victory.

British war crimes lawyer Julian Knowles told Channel 4 that the tied hands, absence of weapons, and the arrangement of Shoba’s body and others found with her undermine that claim. “It’s difficult to think of a mechanism how they could have died other than a cold-blooded execution,” he said.

Both TamilNet and Channel 4 say that Shoba, 27, was a working journalist. TamilNet posted an excerpt of Shoba’s reporting for O’liveechchu, the Tigers’ videomagazine. “Shoba remained unarmed and did not take part in combat,” the website said, citing its unnamed local correspondent who has since left Sri Lanka. “She never carried a gun and her physical condition did not permit her to go to the battlefield. She always had either a camera, a pen, or a notepad,” Channel 4 reported, citing Shoba’s colleague. Shoba suffered from a heart condition, according to Channel 4 and TamilNet.

The Sri Lankan government prevented journalists from accessing the conflict zones, according to CPJ research. Some of the footage in “Killing Fields” was obtained by eye-witnesses, usually Tamils in the conflict zones, using mobile phones and small cameras, according to Channel 4. Others were recorded by soldiers as “grotesque war trophies.” The documentary put the video of Shoba in this category.