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SRI LANKA: Several media personnel killed while investigation has failed

October 30, 2007

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal

30 October 2007
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UA-310-2007: SRI LANKA: Several media personnel killed while investigation has failed

SRI LANKA: Extrajudicial killings; freedom of speech and expression; collapse of rule of law; impunity
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from reliable sources concerning several cases of extrajudicial killings and threats to media personnel in Sri Lanka since 2004. Few cases have been investigated and to-date not a single person has been brought before the court. The AHRC is concerned by the impunity of these killings due to the lack of investigation.

CASE 1:

At around 8:00am on 31 May 2004, Mr. Aiyathurai Nadesan was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on a motorbike, while traveling on a motorcycle himself. The Batticaloa police launched an investigation into the killing. However, no suspect has ever been taken to court. Mr. Nadesan (48), was a renowned journalist who was very critical of the Sri Lanka Army and paramilitary groups in his widely read political column in the Sunday edition of the Virakesari.

CASE 2:

At around 10:30pm, on 28 April 2005, Mr. Tharmaratnam ('Taraki) Sivaram (47) was abducted by four men in a white van in front of the Bambalapitya police station in Colombo. His body was later found the following morning, in Himbulala, a suburb between Jayawardhenapura hospital and the Parliament building in Colombo, with severe head injuries. This location is about 500 meters behind the parliamentary complex and lies inside a high security zone. He had been beaten and shot several times in the head. Mr. Sivaram, a senior editorial board member of TamilNet, was well known for his reporting on the political and military situation in Sri Lanka. It was reported that the investigations were blocked by the authorities even though some of the suspects known as 'pro government Tamil militia' were clearly identified by the investigators.

CASE 3:

On the 29 July 2005, Mr. Arasakumar Kannamuthu (38), a newspaper delivery agent for the Batticaloa Eelanatham newspaper, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen, at Matupola in Kalmunai-Akkaraipattu Road, 50 kilometers south of Batticaloa. Mr. Kannamuthu, was travelling on his motorbike to Oluvil, after delivering newspapers to a Ninthavoor newspaper agent. According to witnesses, Mr. Kannamuthu was shot by two unidentified gunmen who were also riding a motorbike. The Sammanthurai police have begun an investigation into the case, and have revealed the gunmen used a 9mm handgun to shoot the victim twice in the neck. It was alleged that the Karuna group [a breakaway faction from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)] had previously threatened newspaper agents in Batticaloa and Amparai over the telephone and via fax.

CASE 4:

At around 6:15pm, on 29 August 2005, unidentified attackers threw two grenades into the printing office of Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, on Madampitiya Road at Grandpass in Colombo. Mr. David Selvaratnam (50) a security guard, was injured in the attack and later succumbed to his wounds at Colombo Hospital. Mr. Manickam Kamalanathan (49), a proof-reader, Mr. Subramaniyam Suthas (29), a computer operator, and Mr. A.M.F Anas, a visiting employee from Deepam TV, were also injured in the attack. Whilst one eyewitness claims the attackers fled the scene in a white van, another eyewitness claimed that the attackers escaped from the scene on a motorbike.

CASE 5:

At around 7:30am, on 30 September 2005, Mr. Yogakumar Krishnapillai (38), a distributor of the Batticaloa-Eelanatham newspaper, was shot and killed by two unidentified gunmen. The killing took place in the heart of Batticaloa town, on central road in front of Hatton National Bank (HNB), a high security area of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA). Batticaloa Eelanatham, the only newspaper in Batticaloa, is printed in the LTTE held Kokkadichholai. On 10 September 2005, Sri Lankan Special Task Force soldiers blocked the sales of the Eelanatham paper in SLA controlled areas of Batticaloa and Amparai districts.

CASE 6:

At around 6am, on 24 January 2006, Mr. Subramaniam Sugirtharajan (35), a correspondent for "Sudar Oli," a Tamil-language daily, was shot dead by unidentified men close to his home, whilst waiting for public transport to go to work. His killers fled the scene on a motorbike. Residents in Trincomalee said that Mr. Sugirtharajan was instrumental in exposing the involvement of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) in the Killing of five Trincomalee students.

CASE 7:

At around 7:45pm, on 2 May 2006, five armed paramilitary gunmen entered the main office of the Jaffna daily Uthayan, and opened fire on editorial staff. The Marketing Manger, Bastian George Sagayathas (known as 'Suresh', 37), and Rajaratnam Ranjith (25) were also killed. Two other staff at the office, S. Uthayakumar and N. Thayakaran, were rushed to Jaffna Hospital with wounds. According to eyewitnesses, the five gunmen fired over forty gunshots, using T-56 rifles and a handgun. Eyewitnesses in the area identified one of the attackers, wearing all black, as an Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) paramilitary cadre.

CASE 8:

At around 7:20pm, on 21 August 2006, Mr. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah was shot and killed at his temporary residence in Tellippalai, 14 kilometers northeast of Jaffna. Mr. Sivamaharajah (68), was the managing director of Tamil-language daily "Namathu Eelanadu" (Our Eelam Nation) and the veteran chairman of the Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society (MPCS) in Tellippalai, Jaffna. Mr. Sivamaharajah was a former member of parliament for the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and a senior member of Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the main constituent party of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

CASE 9:

On February 1, 2007, Mr. S. T. Gananathan (64), was shot dead 200 meters from the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) camp at Mampalam junction in Ariyalai. He had been the president of the Jaffna Multi Purpose Co-Operative Society (MPCS). His predecessor, Mr. Solomen Sri, had left Jaffna in December 2005 after receiving death threats.

CASE 10:

At about 7:30pm, on 16 April 2007, Mr. Subash Chandraboas (32), editor of the monthly magazine "Nilam" (the Ground) was shot dead at his residence in Thirunavatkulam, Vavuniya. Mr. Chandraboas studied at the College of Journalism and had trained with the national daily 'Virakesari'. He had also worked for other Tamil publications, including the London-based magazine "Tamil World" as a freelance journalist. His eight-year old child confirmed that the assassins spoke Tamil and Sinhala. According to newspaper reports, 25 civilians were killed in Vavuniya during the first eighteen days of April, 2007.

CASE 11:

At around 10am, on 29 April 2007, Mr. Selvarajah Rajivarman, a young journalist working at Jaffna's 'Uthayan' newspaper, was shot and killed by gunmen riding on a motorbike at Naavalar Road, Rasaavin Thoaddam junction in Jaffna. According to Uthayan officials, Mr. Rajivarman (25) was on duty seeking information on recent crimes in Jaffna. Mr. Rajivarman had been working as a staff reporter Uthayan for 6 months.

The AHRC is concerned that no serious investigations have started even though each complaint by the families of the victims have been made before the Human Rights Commission of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The AHRC is also concerned that this series of killings has emerged due to the lack of investigation and punishment against those responsible. No a single responsible person has been brought to book or punished according to the law since it happened 2004.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the concerned authorities requesting them to ensure that a thorough, impartial investigation is conducted into all of the above mentioned cases, in order to identify and bring the perpetrators to justice. Please also urge them to take all efforts to stop ongoing attacks and killings of media personnel in Sri Lanka.

To support this appeal, please click here:

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Suggested letter:

Dear __________,

SRI LANKA: Please start investigation on the killings of media personnel

Information on the killings of media personnel in Sri Lanka

1. Aiyathurai Nadesan (48), male, journalist / around 8am on 31 May 2004 / shot dead by unidentified gunmen, Batticaloa

2. Tharmaratnam ('Taraki) Sivaram (47), male, editorial board member of TamilNet / around 10:30pm, on 28 April 2005 / abducted by 4 men in a white van in front of the Bambalapitya police station in Colombo, later found dead with severe head injuries

3. Arasakumar Kannamuthu (38), male, a newspaper delivery agent for the Batticaloa Eelanatham newspaper / on 29 July 2005 / shot and killed by unidentified gunmen at Matupola in Kalmunai-Akkaraipattu Road, 50 kilometers south of Batticaloa

4. David Selvaratnam (50), a security guard,  Manickam Kamalanathan (49), a proof-reader, Subramaniyam Suthas (29), a computer operator, A.M.F Anas, a visiting employee, all are male / around 6:15pm, on 29 August 2005 / severely injured by unidentified attackers throwing two grenades into the printing office of Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, Madampitiya Road at Grandpass in Colombo

5. Yogakumar Krishnapillai (38), male, a distributor of the Batticaloa-Eelanatham newspaper / around 7:30am, on 30 September 2005 / shot and killed by two unidentified gunmen in Batticaloa town

6. Subramaniam Sugirtharajan (35), male, a correspondent for "Sudar Oli," a Tamil-language daily / around 6am, on 24 January 2006 / shot dead by unidentified men near his house in Trincomalee

7. Bastian George Sagayathas (known as 'Suresh', 37) and Rajaratnam Ranjith (25) were killed, S. Uthayakumar and N. Thayakaran were injured / around 7:45pm on 2 May 2006 / gun shot and killed by five armed paramilitary gunmen entered the office of Jaffna daily Uthayan

8. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah (68), male, managing director of Tamil-language daily "Namathu Eelanadu, chairman of the Multi-Purpose Co-opeative Society (MPCS) in Tellippalai, Jaffna, former member of parliament for the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) / around 7:20pm, on 21 August 2006 / shot and killed at temporary residence in Tellippalai, 14 kilometers northeast of Jaffna

9. S. T. Gananathan (64), male, president of the Jaffna Multi Purpose Co-Operative Society / 1 February 2007/ shot dead 200 meters from the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) camp at Mampalam junction in Ariyalai

10. Subash Chandraboas (32), male, editor of magazine "Nilam" / about 7:30pm, on 16 April 2007 / shot dead at his residence in Thirunavatkulam, Vavuniya

11. Selvarajah Rajivarman (25), male, journalist of Jaffna's 'Uthayan' newspaper / around 10am, on 29 April 2007 / shot and killed by gunmen riding on a motorbike at Naavalar Road, Rasaavin Thoaddam junction in Jaffna

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the killing of 11 media personnel and injuries of 6 media personnel in Sri Lanka. For instance, Mr. Subash Chandraboas, editor of the Tamil monthly magazine 'Nilam' was shot dead in April 2007. The campaign of intimidation backed up by deadly violence has compelled Sri Lankan journalists to flee the country. However, as these cases demonstrate, journalists in Sri Lanka, are being constantly threatened and are in danger of losing their lives.

As of yet, no suspects have been arrested and there remains total impunity for the perpetrators. The increasing numbers of media workers being killed, arrested, assaulted and threatened over the past few years clearly shows that existing domestic mechanisms for the protection of civilians and delivering justice have totally failed to deter perpetrators. Even though extrajudicial killings have been ongoing, the government has acted as a bystander rather than as the key organisation responsible for the protection of its citizens. This failure by the authorities has in effect emboldened the perpetrators to continue to jeopardize the safety of media workers.

In the light of the above, I urge you to ensure that each case of the killing of media personnel is thoroughly investigated, to bring justice to the family of the victims by punishing those responsible. I am deeply concerned that the continuing failure to identify, arrest and prosecute those involved, has further encouraged or emboldens the commission of these acts. I further urge you to take all efforts to stop ongoing attacks and killings of media personnel in Sri Lanka with the recovery of the domestic systems, to prevent further attacks.

I trust that you will take prompt and effective action in these cases.

Yours sincerely,


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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
President
Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka
C/- Office of the President
Temple Trees
150, Galle Road
Colombo 3
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2472100 / +94 11 2446657
Email: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk

2. Mr. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
Prime Minister
Temple Trees
Galle Road, Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 575317-8 or 370 737-8
Fax: +94 11 2 575454

3. Hon. Amarasiri Dodangoda, MP
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms
Superior Courts Complex
Colombo 12
Tel: 94 11 2384837, 2324681, 2392932
Fax: 94 11 2325354 / 2445446

4. Secretary
Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order
15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha
Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: 94-11 2 430860-9, 430878-9 or 435879 (for the secretary)
Fax: 94 11 2 446300 or 421529
E-mail: secdef@sltnet.lk

5. Mr. Victor Perera
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440/327877
E-mail: igp@police.lk

6. Mr. Neville Piyadigama
Chairperson
National Police Commission
3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers
109 Galle Road
Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 395310
Fax: +94 11 2 395867
E-mail: npcgen@sltnet.lk 

7. Mr. C.R. De Silva
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436421
Email: attorney@sri.lanka.net

8. Secretary
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk

9. Mr. Sivarajasigam
Regional Coordinator
Human Rights Commission of Jaffna Branch
No. 1, 3rd Cross Street
Jaffna
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 21 2222021
Fax: +94 21 2222021
E-mail: hrcj@sltnet.lk

10. Mr. Philip Alston
Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions
Room 3-016
OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9155
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTN: SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS)

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-310-2007
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.