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Sri Lanka 28 April 2006

Tamilnet editor’s murder still unpunished after one year

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Sri Lanka Free Media Movement (FMM) all voiced outrage today about the lack of progress in the investigation into the murder a year ago of Tamil journalist Dharmeratnam "Taraki" Sivaram, the editor of the Tamilnet news website and columnist for the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror newspaper.

The arrest of a suspect in June 2005 raised hopes that the case would soon be solved, but the investigators have done virtually nothing since his arrest.

"The current serious crisis in Sri Lanka - the result of unacceptable terrorism - in no way justifies the impunity prevailing in the murders of journalists and human rights activists," the three press freedom organisations said.

"We call on President Mahinda Rajapakse to step up efforts in the investigation into Sivaram’s murder as the state’s credibility in preventing the murders of journalists, especially Tamil journalists, is at stake" they added.

Four men kidnapped Sivaram on April 28, 2005, as he and several friends emerged from a bar a few metres from the Bambalapitya police station. His body was found the next day in the district of Himbulala, near the parliament. He had been beaten and shot in the head.

Arumugam Sri Skandarajan, a former member of a Tamil armed group, was arrested as a suspect on June 13, 2005, near Colombo. He was found in possession of the SIM card from Sivaram’s mobile phone. The police also said they had found a vehicle that may have been used in his abduction. But the witnesses of the abduction later said the detained suspect was not one of the kidnappers and that the car was not the one they had used.

After his arrest, the police virtually abandoned the investigation. Sivaram’s relatives and friends say the instigators and perpetrators could be linked to Tamil paramilitary groups, as Sivaram supported the Tamil nationalists and was outspoken in his criticism of abuses by the security forces and paramilitaries.

During the past year, Tamil language journalists and media workers have been killed, received death threats, physical and psychological threats, been arrested and detained. Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) journalist, Relangi Selvarajah and her husband were shot dead on August 12, 2005, in Bambalapitiya, Colombo.

Subramaniyam Sugirdharajan, popularly known as SSR, a part-time provincial journalist working for the Tamil language daily, Sudaroli, was shot dead in the eastern port city of Trincomalee on January 24, 2006.

D. Selvarathnam, a security guard at the printing press for Tamil language newspaper, Sudaroli, was killed in a grenade attack against the newspaper on August 29, 2005.

K. Navarathnam, newspaper deliveryman of Yal Thinakkural, was killed by unknown assailants in Jaffna on December 22, 2005.

These killings have contributed to a growing fear amongst the Tamil media community.

The IFJ, RSF and FMM are calling for the Sri Lankan Government to ensure those responsible for these murders are brought to justice and to ensure the safety of all journalists working in Sri Lanka.

"As long as journalists are forced to work in fear there can be no press freedom," said the three organisations.

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