IFJ Warns of More Violence after “Tragic and Senseless” Murder of Sri Lankan Journalist

The International Federation of Journalists says the brutal murder of respected Sri Lankan journalist Dharmaretnam Sivaram, who was kidnapped and shot dead by armed men yesterday morning, was “tragic and senseless” and would fuel further violence in the divided island.

Sivaram, a newspaper columnist and editor of the English-language website TamilNet, was closely identified with Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels and was a powerful advocate of Tamil rights whose writings were widely respected.

“This is a shocking, tragic and senseless killing of a prominent and distinguished commentator who was a leading voice of the Tamil minority,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “His death will only fuel further violence and puts the fragile cease-fire between Tamils and the Sinhala majority in the country under intense pressure.”

Sivaram was killed after he was abducted at a restaurant in Colombo and taken away in a four-wheel-drive vehicle by four armed men, according to IFJ sources. His body was found hours later in a suburb about six miles from the capital.

Sivaram's writings in the Daily Mirror, an English-language newspaper and TamilNet were often sympathetic to Sri Lanka's main Tamil rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, popularly known as the Tamil Tigers who in 1983 launched an insurgency against the Sri Lankan government aimed at securing an independent homeland.

The conflict claimed more than 60,000 lives before the two sides agreed to a cease-fire in February 2002. Peace talks subsequently broke down, and a surge in political violence in the last year had raised fears about the future. This murder is the latest in a series of violent incidents that threaten the cease-fire and follows a split between the main rebel group and a breakaway faction known as Col. Karuna, with whom Sivaram was said to have been close.

Sivaram received many deaths threats in recent months as has another journalist, Sethurupan Nadarajah, who lives in Oslo and contributes material to a Tamil radio station in London. He runs several web sites, including Oslo Voice and writes for media in Sri Lanka. He has been accused of being a member of the rebel Tamil Tigers (LTTE) but, like Sivaram, is respected as an independent journalist and commentator on Tamil affairs.

“When journalists who have much to contribute to the political debate about the future become the targets of violence, the scope for democratic exchange and understanding of how to resolve the political crisis becomes dangerously narrow,” said White. “We must have an end to death threats and we must find the killers of Sivaram and bring them to justice.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries