Feature Article

Pro-peace groups receive death threats

[TamilNet, Thursday, 12 May 2005, 13:46 GMT]
Leaders of civil society organisations calling for a peaceful solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict have received death threats from an extreme Sinhala nationalist group calling itself ‘Theraputtabhaya force.’ The letter, which claimed responsibility for the murder of journalist Sivaram Dharmeratnam, says that all traitors should be ready to become "fertiliser for the motherland" if they continue to betray it.

Titled, “Announcement to the enemies of the motherland,” the letter was signed by a ‘Commander Mayadunne.’

“These infamous imperialist forces that are shuddering in the face of the revolutionary economic uprising of China, Malaysia, Thailand and India, have united themselves with the traitorous Wanni Tigers who are engaged in dividing this country under the guise of a national liberation struggle, taking the shelter of peace and are advancing step by step to set up a Tamil Eelam,” it said.

Theraputtabhaya force.
English versjon of the letter sent by Theraputtabhaya Force.

“For this purpose the Norwegian white Tigers and UNP green Tigers have got together and showing their dollar bags are building up a flock of Blue Tigers by deceiving the eunuchs in the United Peoples Freedom Alliance,” it said.

“And also a set of traitors in the guise of scholars, intellectuals and artists are acting as the directors of this heinous sin,” it said.

“The Tiger called Dharmaratnam Sivaram who call himself a journalist is only one among these enemies of the motherland, engaged in this traitorous conspiracy of destroying the motherland.”

“It is with a heart full of joy that we are informing the patriotic people of this country that we had to put an end on 28th April 2005, at 11.20 p m, to the infamous traitorous operation he carried out, defacing and darkening the international face of Sri Lanka, with the help, encouragement and sponsorship of a sinful, traitorous herd, calling themselves media men, born of Sinhala parents.”

Mr. Sivaram, one of Sri Lanka’s leading political columnists and military analysts, was abducted and shot dead on 28 April by unidentified assailants who seized him in front of a Colombo police station and dumped his body close to the Parliament complex.

In a pointed warning, the letter said: “What the traitorous imperialist wanni Tigers –green –white –blue Tigers and those traitorous demons who have joined them licking their dollar bags should know from this is that we are watching them day and night.”

“It is hereby informed that all those who are doing harm to the motherland, while being nourished by the motherland, should be ready to become fertiliser to the motherland very soon.”

Amongst those who received the letter this week were Victor Ivan, convener of the Free Media Movement (FMM) and chief editor of Ravaya newspaper, and Sunanda Deshapriya, FMM spokesperson, former editor of Yukthiya newspaper and a freelance journalist.

Threatening letters were also sent to officials at the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) including its Executive Director, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Mr Sunanda Deshapriya (Director and Head of the Media Unit), Mr Lionel Guruge (Coordinator Outreach and Publications) and Mr Asanga Welikala ( Senior Researcher, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Unit ).

The FMM pointed out that the letter was received by its officials on the day of a protest rally organised in Colombo by the ultra-right Patriotic National Movement (PNM) against "the betrayal of the country to the LTTE."

According to the Sinhala-Buddhist chronicles, Mahavamsa, Theraputtabhaya was a Buddhist monk who disrobed and joined the Sinhala King Dutugemunu's army and became one of the 10 famous generals who fought the war against the Tamil invaders, the Cholas. Theraputtabhaya reordained as a monk after the victory over the Tamils.

Mayadunne was a Sinhala king who, along with his son, Seethawaka Rajasinghe, launched a rebellion against the Portuguese during their colonial rule of the island. Interestingly, according to Sinhala chronicles, Mayadunne is said to have been later killed by his son, who became an ardent convert to Hinduism.

Citing the anti-Tamil, anti-imperial connotations, some centre-right civil society activists suggested the ‘Theraputtabhaya force’ is a reincarnate of an earlier Sinhala nationalist group. “This was an old front organisation for JVP monks long ago [which is] now again active,” they said.

Theraputtabhaya Force.
Sinhala versjon of the letter sent by Theraputtabhaya Force.
The ultra-nationalist JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Perumana) is Sri Lanka’s third largest political party and a member of the ruling coalition. It led two abortive and bloody inserructions against the Sri Lankan state in 1971 and the late eighties. Notably, Saman Piyasiri Fernando, the JVP's military wing commander in the 1980s, used the nom de guerre Keerthi Vijayabahu, another mythical Sinhala king credited with vanquishing the Tamils.

‘Theraputtabhaya force’ has support of Sinhala nationalists from all main parties, including the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), United National Party (UNP) and the hardline monks’ party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), they said.

In a blistering two hour long speech a month ago attacking NGOs and international donors for undermining Sinhala interests, the JVP’s firebrand Propaganda Secretary, Wimal Weerawansa, singled out Mr. Jehan Perera of Sri Lanka’s National Peace Council and Dr. Pakkiyasothy Saravanamuthu, the CPA’s director for harsh invective.

He also condemned Mr. Sivaram, by his non de plume, Taraki and Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda Colombo university. Whilst Prof. Jayadeva, a leader of the JVP insurrection in 1971, has written supportively of the Norwegian peace process in Sri Lankan newspapers, Mr. Sivaram had argued in support of Tamil nationalism.

Amidst widespread dismay and outrage amongst the Tamil community and local and international pro-peace organisations, the JHU launched a vitriolic attack on Mr. Sivaram, describing him as a “terrorist journalist” working for the LTTE and that he was akin to “Hitler’s Goebbels.”

Saying Mr. Sivaram had “undermined the morale of the armed forces who were fighting the fascist Tigers,” the JHU said the writers “should have been arrested according to the laws of Sri Lanka. The party also urged the government to take stern action against others working in support of the Tigers.

“Given Sri Lanka's recent history of political killings on various grounds, threats like this create a fear psychosis among the targeted groups,” FMM said Thursday. “[We are] extremely concerned that these kinds of threats could promote self-censorship among journalists and marginalise and curtail the space for voices critical of such undemocratic actions.”

FMM said it “strongly urges local and international democratic forces to remain vigilant about the developing situation of uncertainty and insecurity in the country which could lead to social, political and cultural restrictions of freedom of expression and grave threats to the personal security of civil society and media activists.”


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