26 September, 2020

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No Longer A Black Spot For Press Freedom; But All Journalist Murders Still Unsolved

By Johan Mikaelsson

Johan Mikaelsson

Johan Mikaelsson

Sri Lanka is no longer regarded a black spot for press freedom, but all killings and disappearances during the dark years remain unsolved. April 28 2005, the most influential Tamil journalist, Dharmeratnam Sivaram, was abducted and shot dead.

His body was found in a high-security zone near the parliament building in Kotte. It had a discouraging effect on Tamils and colleagues and friends in the media. Several more journalists, and workers active in the chain of spreading news and information were to pay the ultimate price the years that followed. Their families and friends were left with grief and fear.

Many citizens, not all, took big leaps of joy in 2015, as the leader and his government was voted out of office. This reflects in the Paris-based media watch-dog Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, released a couple of weeks ago: Sri Lanka advances from place 165 to 141. It’s a serious situation, but things are moving in the right direction.

The relief was even visible in the faces of the journalists I met during my two visits to the island in 2015. Before the parliamentary elections on August 17, there were still some doubts. Some polls showed that a majority of Sinhalese still supported Mahinda Rajapaksa, who said he would come back as Prime Minister – to set things straight.Dharmeratnam Sivaram

Dharmeratnam Sivaram – Photo Johan Mikaelsson

It didn’t happen. Voters consolidated the power shift that took place after the presidential elections on January 8, 2015. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged to continue the work for greater freedom of expression and press freedom. All the problems have clearly not been resolved.

Journalists in Sri Lanka are more relaxed today. Like everywhere else some are eager to contribute to society through their journalism, or at least try to let people know about a few things. Media companies are concerned about the economy; how young people get content on their screens most of the time without paying. Journalists try to keep optimistic about the future of their profession. They have their worries, but they do not have to fear for their lives. That said, self-censorship is still present and makes an obstacle to ‘truth-finding’, the close to sacred mission for journalists.

“It is a big challenge for the English-language newspapers to take up the armed forces’ sexual violence against Tamils ​​in northern Sri Lanka”, one journalist told me.

The violence and threats have been the reality for so many years. The situation changed a little over a year ago. The change is remarkable. But journalists and media company owners are still hesitant to challenge people’s sentiments by investigating the wide-spread and systematic use of sexual violence committed by sections of the armed forces against young Tamil men and women, as it has been described in several reports (gruesome reading).

“It may be fine to refer to statements about reports or to publish texts from news agencies. But to go from that, to investigating and writing your own articles, to show that this is really happening in our country, is a long step.”

There is still a lot to do. A much awaited “Freedom of information bill” is still only a draft. And if war wounds are to be healed, the past can’t be ignored. Unresolved murders of journalists (most of them Tamils) can be interpreted as an acceptance of the fact that murderers can walk free.

Through a process of transitional justice, a new and just society is supposed to be built. For that to happen past crimes must be handled properly – even if it means that people are found guilty of having committed or ordered serious crimes. The expectations on the new rulers to show results are growing.

Back to Sivaram. “Siva” as his friends call him, wrote under the pseudonym “Taraki” in his column in Daily Mirror, Sunday Times and other English and Tamil media outlets. He was a founding Editor of TamilNet. He informed and influenced Tamils about the political and military situation ​and brought out the Tamil side of the story for readers all over the world with an interest in this very special island.

Of course, he met opposition from the government side and Sinhala nationalists. He was accused of “being an LTTE spy” and accordingly his home was searched several times by police. Hatred was instilled. It paved the way for the lethal attack.

The murder was carried out very deliberately. If the main motive was to silence the most prominent Tamil journalist in the country, another goal must have been to weaken the fairly united Tamil front behind the LTTE, which wanted liberation from a state they found oppressing. The killers succeeded with their task, together with the leaders that looked the other way before as well as after the murder. The failed trial in 2012 and the fact that the media has not been able to cast much new light on the case in 2015 and 2016 make realistic assessors pessimistic about seeing the crime being solved.

By dumping Sivarams’ body in a high security zone near the parliament building in Kotte that night in late April 2005, the message from the murderers was crystal clear: We are above the law, don’t challenge us! Until now, that’s the last of it.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    7

    It is not surprising that endless sobbing and noises about Sivarahandler friends of this man who was never a journalist, but an LTTE spy planted in the Island through stupid people who edited the Island at the time.

    He was groomed by two [Edited out] professors, Mark Whitaker, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina,and all the articled he wrote to the Island was the work of Karthigesu Sivathamby who died in 2011.Sivathamby wrote to Sri Lankan media after Sivaram’s death that he was harassing him to produce articles at a pace he simply could not.

    Sivaram came from Batticaloa and he was with PLOTE, a rival gang to Pirabakaran until they were wiped out by him. Sivaram was involved in a gun battle in Jaffna and only just managed to save his life. Later he begged Pirabakaran to join the LTTE but he never trusted Sivaram and asked him to work as a spy to prove his worth. That was the time he came to Colombo and mysteriously became a “journalist” through an introduction to a man called Gamini Weerakoon who was editor the Island at the time. This spy had no English writing ability or any training as a journalist. But Weerakoon had no brains. From there he managed to get information about VIP appointments and movements and passed them on to the LTTE. They used this information at the (failed) Mirihana bombing of Maithripala Sirisena.

    Sivaram’s end came soon after the arrest of the LTTE operative who kidnapped and murdered police inspector Jeyasingham from his family. A few days after the news came to the investigators, Sivaram met his deserved fate.

    His “journalist” tags come from his involvement since 1997 with the extremist website Tamilnet.com. For Tamilnet of course, there has never been a better journalist or a political analyst in Sri Lanka. But they were the propaganda arm of the Tigers.

    But the man was an unprincipled, despicable spy and he got what he deserved. The country does not mourn him, but foreign handlers do. We don’t care.

    So Mr Mikaelsson, you can go to a corner in wherever you live Scandinavia and start sucking suck your thumb. Poof…

    • 3
      0

      Tamil Patriot.

      Pillaiyan has said he supplied hitman at the order of the Old King to kill New King. That is a news piece we all read in papers. Why can’t you bring Pillaiyan out and complete an inquiry of whom, when, how he supplied that hitman? Why don’t you put him at the court then we can see if he is joking or serious. Ranil said in Parliament he knows who killed Kathirgamar. If he is busy, why can’t he hire a lawyer and record a statement, start a case based on that? He would not need more than two or three hours for that.

      Listen, 145,000 has been murdered by the people who murdered Taraki. Everybody knows the truth. OISL has done the background work. It is the West suppressed the 42 names appeared in OISL report. West has to change its mind and should start to explore path to find out who carried the war crime. The names appeared in the OISL report has to be released, it can be LTTE or GOSL. That is where truth has been given pentobarbital and put into barb comma by west.

      “It may be fine to refer to statements about reports or to publish texts from news agencies. But to go from that, to investigating and writing your own articles, to show that this is really happening in our country, is a long step.”

      That is not enough Mr.Johan Mikaelsson. Western journalist have free hand many times more than Lankawe. They should not support those suppressed those name; they must press the West to follow up on OISL.

  • 5
    0

    Why don’t you ask the current government in Sri Lanka about Keith Noyahr? He is unable to return to Sri lanka because of a specific minister. Ask them why the Lasantha murder is still covered up.

  • 3
    1

    May these Sri Lankans too Rest In Peace.
    This is an oft repeated under Comments in various sites, lest we
    forget -LIST OF KILLINGS OF JOURNALISTS AND MEDIA WORKERS
    2004
    1.Aiyathurai A. Nadesan – Journalist / 31 May
    2. Kandaswamy Aiyer Balanadaraj – Writer / 16 August
    3. Lanka Jayasundera – Photo journalist / 11 December
    2005
    4.Dharmaratnam Sivaram – Editor / 28 April
    5. Kannamuttu Arsakumar – Media worker/ 29 June
    6. Relangee Selvarajah – Journalist / 12 August
    7. D. Selvaratnam – Media worker/ 29 August
    8. Yogakumar Krishnapillai – Media Worker / 30 September
    9. L. M. Faleel (Netpittimunai Faleel) – Writer / 02 December
    10. K. Navaratnam – Media worker / 22 December
    2006
    11.Subramaniam Suhirtharajan – Journalist / 24 January
    12. S. T. Gananathan – Patron, Tamil News and Information Centre / 01 February
    13. Bastian George Sagayathas – Media worker / 03 May
    14. Rajaratnam Ranjith Kumar – Media worker / 03 May
    15. Sampath Lakmal de Silva – Journalist / 02 July – killed by Army
    Intelligence
    16. Mariadasan Manojanraj – Media worker / 01 August
    17. Pathmanathan Vismananthan – Singer and musician / 02 August
    18. Sathasivam Baskaran – Media worker / 15 August
    19. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah – Media owner / 20 August
    2007
    20.. Raveendran – Media worker / 12 February
    21. Subramaniam Ramachandran – Media personnel / 15 February
    22. Chandrabose Suthakar – Journalist / 16 April
    23. Selvarasah Rajeevarman – Journalist / 29 April
    24. Sahadevan Neelakshan – Journalist / 01 August
    25. Anthonypillai Sherin Siththiranjan – Media worker / 05 November
    26. Vadivel Nimalarajah – Media worker / 17 November
    27. Isaivizhi Chempian (Subhajini) – Media worker / 27 November
    28. Suresh Limbiyo – Media Worker / 27 November
    29. T.Tharmalingam – Media Worker / 27 November

    2008
    30.Paranirupesingham Devakumar – Journalist / 28 May
    31. Rasmi Mohamad – Journalist / 06 October
    2009
    32.Lasantha Wickrematunga – Editor / 08 January
    33. Punniyamurthy Sathyamurthy – Journalist / 12 February
    34. Sasi Mathan – Media worker / 06 March

    Permalink
    – See more at:
    http://blogs.channel4.com/miller-on-foreign-affairs/open-letter-sri-lankan-journalists/524#sthash.tYkkRfgD.dpuf

    19 Journalists Killed in Sri Lanka/ Source: Tamil H.R. ( Paris)

    Shoba, O’liveechchu May 18 or 19, in Mullivaikkal, Sri Lanka
    Puniyamoorthy Sathiyamoorthy, freelance February 12, 2009, in Mullaitheevu
    district, Sri Lanka
    Lasantha Wickramatunga, The Sunday Leader January 8, 2009, in an area outside
    Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Rashmi Mohamed, SirasaTV October 6, 2008, in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
    Paranirupasingham Devakumar, News 1st May 28, 2008, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Suresh Linbiyo, Voice of Tigers November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
    T. Tharmalingam, Voice of Tigers November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
    Isaivizhi Chempiyan, Voice of Tigers November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
    Selvarajah Rajeewarnam, Uthayan April 29, 2007, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Subash Chandraboas, Nilam April 16, 2007, in an area near Vavuniya,Sri Lanka
    Subramaniyam Sugitharajah, Sudar Oli August 12, 2005, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Dharmeratnam Sivaram, TamilNet and Daily Mirror April 29, 2005, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Lanka Jayasundara, Wijeya Publications December 11, 2004, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Bala Nadarajah Iyer, Thinamurasu and Thinakaran August 16, 2004, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Aiyathurai Nadesan, Virakesari May 31, 2004, in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
    Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, BBC, Virakesari, Ravaya October 19, 2000, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Anura Priyantha,Independent Television Network December 18, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Indika Pathinivasan, Maharaja Television Network December 18, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka

    6 Journalists Killed in Sri Lanka/Motive Unconfirmed
    http://www.cpj.org/killed/terminology.php
    Sahadevan Nilakshan, Chaalaram August 1, 2007, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, Namathu Eelanadu August 20, 2006, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Sampath Lakmal, Sathdina July 1, 2006, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Vasthian Anthony Mariyadas, Freelancer December 31, 1999, in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka
    Atputharajah Nadarajah, Thinamurusu November 2, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Rohana Kumara, Satana September 7, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka

    http://www.cpj.org/killed/terminology.php

    • 3
      5

      punchi
      Were these “journalists” registered with the gov. as journalists? How many of these “journalists” were LTTE terrorists? And how many of them were killed by Parayabakaran’s orders? Where can we get this information? The problem is soon after their death they become innocent, unbiased, non-pro-terror innocent civilian journalists! Did Parayabakaran have journalist working for him? Who were the journalists writing for the Tamil Net? I guess nobody!!

      With all said and done I consider those killed (if they are legitimate journalists) as our heroes. Them giving their lives for us saved this country from a group of brutal terrorists. Imagine if terrorism was not eliminated in 2009. How many more innocent Sri Lankan civilians would have been killed by today? How many journalists were killed after the end of the war?

      • 4
        1

        EU

        “Were these “journalists” registered with the gov. as journalists? How many of these “journalists” were LTTE terrorists? And how many of them were killed by Parayabakaran’s orders? Where can we get this information? The problem is soon after their death they become innocent, unbiased, non-pro-terror innocent civilian journalists! Did Parayabakaran have journalist working for him? Who were the journalists writing for the Tamil Net? I guess nobody!!”

        You have lot of questions. We too. Ranil had given a promise in the election not to investigate anybody. They are not ready even to bring Pillaiyan to the stage and question him. Do you want to let Parayabakaran murders go burried but want to dig only his “Tamil Eelam Bank’s bunkers”. You know that is not impartial. Instead of time to time you submerge somewhere and show your crocodile tears, why don’t you support a impartial investigation from outside.

        • 3
          5

          Malla
          Frankly i dont want to investigate anything. We got rid of a brutal terror group. The leader was killed similar to what the US did for Osama. Does anybody ask to investigate osama”s death?
          Let us move forward and enjoy the short life we live on earth. If Tamils have problems let us negotiate and negotiate not kill each other.

          • 9
            1

            “” Does anybody ask to investigate osama”s death?””

            Round peg in square hole or vice versa.

            Walla Wakebar Boom!!;))

            Was international terror stretching across many nations.( this is what my friends at the pentagon had to say) 9/11.- He killed 3 of my friends well qualified. Just because FBI used the word `most dreaded` there is a limit.- Obama/Hillary is a joke already. The first to override Judiciary.
            FBI set up R Rajaratnam witness- perhaps if he had not met Gota and PM who went with begging bowl FBI may have may have found another cannon fodder to fit the chats.
            you know very little about FBI even though you live at California- Are you just glued to the tin box like most immigrants to the west are.??

            What steps would you take if someone held a bayonet at you??

          • 4
            1

            Don’t confuse EU. Please read if had asked to investigate Leader Praba’s death. You mind is comparing him with Oasama. As usual you are eating your conscience and lying to your heart. Leader Praba did not live to my mercy to call justice for his death. (Further, the comedian, Brother Prince fished the DNA test in 12 hours but when asked Chidambaram asked him proof for the death, the Prince begged not to ask for proof. All what you are capable of is giving cookie to a child and killing. Don’t even in your wildest dream dare to compare that with American Navy Seals’ Operation Neptune Spear stunt in Abbottabad. You could not even touch the tail of the leader. For that you killed more than 145,000 elderly, children and women in a small land strip of Mullivaikal. You earned the name as rapist army by using the rape as weapon. Comparing that record with with a bloodless American stunt, maneuvering behind Osama through continents, is a comedy. This is showing you didn’t read Ponni’s famous maiden speech in the parliament and the speech about the leader Praba’s where about. Please read it yourself before write another comment. I don’t want to go into it as it will distract from the point.)

            Does anybody ask to investigate osama”s death?
            Didn’t you people are calling for Osama’s death? Whom else, other than Lankawe’s SinhaLE caliber, will ask for Osama’s death investigation?

            Let me put you question one more time: Does anybody ask to investigate osama”s death? It is really an strange way you are putting this question. Isn’t it? Are suggesting we take your hand in that. It is an absolute comedy.

            My question was about your questions. If you can’t remember your questions please read it aging what you wrote: “Were these “journalists” registered with the gov. as journalists? How many of these “journalists” were LTTE terrorists? And how many of them were killed by Parayabakaran’s orders? Where can we get this information? The problem is soon after their death they become innocent, unbiased, non-pro-terror innocent civilian journalists! Did Parayabakaran have journalist working for him? Who were the journalists writing for the Tamil Net? I guess nobody!!”

            Wake up EU, this about Taraki; This article is about the murders of journalists your government committed. If you think Leader Prba had killed journalists let’s investigate as you would like to investigate Osama’s death. Let’s investigate the death of the 145,000 civilians.

            Can you tell me which library America burned in Saudi Arabia? Navaali Church bombing killed more than 150 and and wounded many. Chandrika openly ordered it. She is free woman now. Afghanistan hospital bombing went wrong by human error. It was investigated and action against 16 officers were taken. New Protocol introduced for that kind of bombing. It is recommended now the ground troops take substantial role in any future bombings. Don’t tell me stories that you use election campaign with modayas.

            If Tamils have problems let us negotiate and negotiate not kill each other. Who will negotiate anything with you other than the Chinese computer hackers? They are ones know to deal with you. They know to “Madiyai Piddichchu Kallai kudduththu Mayirai Piddichchu Kaasai Vaanka” (Give the toddy begging to drink and get the money brutalising the drunkard). They gave you BMICH and took the Port City and Hambantota. Bravo! That is what one calls “Negotiating With Appe Anduwa”. We show it for 70 years. Last month alone 56 rehabilitated and released innocents were arrested again.

            Frankly i dont want to investigate anything. Well! We are the victims. Your crimes we decide whether to investigate or not, not you.

            Let us move forward and enjoy the short life we live on earth. We are not innocent Savitris to follow the “Pollatha Narayanan”. We don’t want to walk to the cliff with you!
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T32rZg8M4xs
            We are no more in love with you. We want diverse!

            • 0
              1

              ‘Malli’ guy
              Which planet do you live? USA bombed Iraq to the stone age and destroyed libraries and museums- even looted the nations wealth. Same in Libya, this time via France and NATO. And still looting Libya via the ISIS. And we all know what Aleppo looks like? What they are doing in Syria.
              If you think the way they killed Osama is so amazing and like in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, you definitely live in another planet!

              • 0
                0

                Mahavamsa Buddhist,

                I know what you are telling. My history can checked in Wikipedia, though its accuracy not guaranteed. Your his is found in the Jaffanahistory.com. But, unfortunately the 300 million Americans are too lazy to read Jaffanahistory.com, the great library the Appe Anduwa has established. Even CV is demanding the Tamil Text books be rewritten by UNESCO. What to do?

                Thanks anyway for you insight.

                (Very sad Appe Aandu, Kanangara, Iriyagolla, Badiuddin… to the famous Akila viraj -who has no idea of Aids sacked healthy child from school blaming his mother has Aids-took the highly educated Southeast Asian country to this Mahavamsa days status. They are flying AirLanka in petty dreams in the isolated island with their well frog minds)

            • 0
              5

              malla,
              You need to get medical help ASAP.
              Good luck!

              • 3
                0

                You are a very graceful man. here is something a poet said something about the moon (as I cannot follow the formatting of the original web site, it may be prefered to read this Cut & Paste over there) :
                [Edited out]
                Meaning: Though the dark is spread all over the Moon the grace of it lightens the earth. Likewise are great ones. How would a great be contented of looking after his sores while the weaks feel their pain? So they rush first to others pain, neglecting their own.

  • 2
    1

    “…all the articled he wrote to the Island was the work of Karthigesu Sivathamby who died in 2011.Sivathamby wrote to Sri Lankan media after Sivaram’s death that he was harassing him to produce articles at a pace he simply could not.”
    Sivaram’s end came soon after the arrest of the LTTE operative who kidnapped and murdered police inspector Jeyasingham from his family. A few days after the news came to the investigators, Sivaram met his deserved fate.

    I do not understand how Sivaram’s “harassing him [Sivathamby] to produce articles at a pace he [Sivathamby] simply could not proves that articles he wrote to the Island was the work of Sivathamby.

    I did not like DP Sivaram’s plitics when he was with the PLOTE or after that. But I find it distasteful to hear one say that “Sivaram met his deserved fate”. This is no different from the attitude of cetain FP leaders after Duraiappa’s foul murder.
    Is that a measure of 2000+ years of Tamil culture & civilization?

  • 0
    1

    Obviously the previous government would have had no trouble winning the war without resorting to killing of journalists. They were that powerful. Not forgetting General SF’s contribution as well.

    Strongly stand against killing of journalists. It’s crimminal, like the killing of anyone else except army and terrorists in combat if it is done the correct way.

  • 2
    0

    ”………… There is still a lot to do. A much awaited “Freedom of information bill” is still only a draft. And if war wounds are to be healed, the past can’t be ignored. Unresolved murders of journalists (most of them Tamils) can be interpreted as an acceptance of the fact that murderers can walk free. ……… By dumping Sivarams’ body in a high security zone near the parliament building in Kotte that night in late April 2005, the message from the murderers was crystal clear: We are above the law, don’t challenge us! Until now, that’s the last of it.”

    Thank you, Mark

  • 1
    0

    punitham,

    the quote was from Mikaelsson’s fresh article above, not prof Whitaker’s old one from 2012 that was re-published on the 28th, the day of the murder.

    Sivaram was also remembered in Colombo yesterday btw:
    http://www.dailymirror.lk/108836/Protestors-demand-probe-into-journalist-s-death

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