Feature Article

Batticaloa turns nightmare for local journalists

[TamilNet, Saturday, 26 June 2004, 10:28 GMT]
A journalist in Batticaloa went into hiding Friday, fearing for his life after persons suspected to be members of a paramilitary group working with the Sri Lankan military intelligence threatened him with death, family members told TamilNet. The journalist, Mr. Thanthiyan Vedanayagam, was working as the Batticaloa correspondent for the independent Tamil daily ‘Thinakkural’. Two journalists fled the eastern town earlier this month after they too were threatened with death by persons suspected to be members of a paramilitary group working with the Sri Lankan military intelligence.

Distraught family members of Mr. Vedanayagam told TamilNet that they feared the paramilitary and army intelligence might harm them to take revenge on the journalist.

Mr. Vedanayagam also contributed to the Sri Lankan state owned Tamil daily ‘Thinakaran’ and the private Tamil television station ‘Shakthi’.

Mr. Vedanayagam’s relatives said he was targeted and threatened after he reported a press meeting with Ms. Nilavini, a senior associate of renegade LTTE commander who fled a safe house provided for her by the Sri Lanka army intelligence in a Colombo suburb.

A. Nadesan
Aiyathurai Nadesan, Tamil journalist, shot dead on 31 May 2004
Mr. Aiyathurai Nadesan, a senior Tamil journalist, was shot dead on after he wrote an article criticising the Sri Lanka army intelligence and paramilitary groups operating with it for the murder of an academic and several civilians in Batticaloa.

Mr. Nadesan's family and colleagues say that a paramilitary working with the Sri Lanka army intelligence was responsible for the senior journalist’s murder.

"We are not safe at all in Batticaloa. What protection for us when the perpetrators of Nadesan’s murder continue to operate there with impunity? They are being used to intimidate and murder Tamil journalists so that the truth about what’s going on in Batticaloa does not come out. They want to impose a total news black out to terrorise and control the people of Batticaloa. So they are targeting the media”, said Mr. R. Thurairatnam, a senior journalist from the east who is the president of the 'Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance’.

R. Thurairatnam
Mr. R.Thurairatnam, Batticaloa journalist threatened with death
Mr. Thurairatnam went into hiding after he was threatened with death by members of the paramilitary group working with the Sri Lanka army intelligence in Batticaloa.

Mr. Thurairatnam is the correspondent for state run Lake House group newspapers and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

He also worked for TamilNet and several Tamil media in Europe and Canada.

Mr. Shan Thavarajah, correspondent and political columnist for the Sunday edition of the Tamil daily ‘Thinakkural’ had to leave Batticaloa after he too was threatened by persons suspected to be working with the Sri Lanka army intelligence unit in the eastern town.

Mr. Thurairatnam and Mr. Shan Thavarajah were closely associated with Mr. Nadesan. Despite dire threats from the paramilitary group which is alleged to have murdered Mr. Nadesan, the two organised and took part in the funeral of the slain journalist.

The paramilitary group threatened friends and relatives of Mr. Nadesan not to attend his funeral.

Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, BBC journalist, shot dead on 19 October 2000
Journalists, politicians and informed civil society leaders in Batticaloa say the group spreading terror there comprises three associates of the renegade LTTE commander 'Karuna', Sri Lanka army intelligence operatives and local members of the EPDP and EPRLF (Varathar Faction).

"People saw the gunmen who murdered Nadesan in broad daylight in Batticaloa town. But no one came forward to identify them because the killers are working with the military intelligence. People were so scared of the murderers and their backers that no one came forward to help Nadesan when he lay bleeding on the road for more than an hour", Mr. Shan Thavarajah said.

Sri Lanka Police say they are still investigating Mr. Nadesan’s murder.

EPDP and EPRLF (Varathar Faction) are paramilitaries that work closely with the Sri Lanka army (SLA) intelligence. Many members of these groups are employed as regular soldiers by the SLA.

The EPDP has been accused of murdering Jaffna journalist Mr. Mayilvaganam Nimalarajan in October 2000. He was shot dead at his home in Sri Lanka army high security zone in the heart of Jaffna town after he reported widespread rigging by the EPDP during general elections in October 2000.

Tamil Journalist Mr. Sivaram Dharmeratnam (‘Taraki’)

Despite a warrant by the Jaffna courts on a senior EPDP operative wanted in connection with the journalist’s murder, the perpetrators are yet to be brought to book by the Police.

The EPDP was also allegedly involved in the murder of the editor of 'Thinamurasu', a Tamil weekly.

Recently, Sri Lanka Police raided the Colombo home of journalist, Mr. Sivaram Dharmeratnam (‘Taraki’), a political affairs columnist for English and Tamil papers published from Colombo and a member of TamilNet's editorial board.

Mr. Dharmeratnam who is from Batticaloa was threatened with death in 2000 and 2001 by unidentified armed groups believed to be working clandestinely with the Sri Lankan state and by a Sinhala extremist group.

"It is obvious that the Sri Lanka army and its paramilitaries want to only their black propaganda to come out as the truth from Batticaloa. They want to completely stop reports by independent journalists that contradict or undermine their current psychological operations aimed spreading terror and confusion among the ordinary people of Batticaloa. But our job is to report the truth", said Mr. Samithamby Raveendran, a local TV journalist.


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