Cablegate: Multiparty Demonstration in Colombo Over Murder

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958:N/A
SUBJECT: Multiparty demonstration in Colombo over murder
of prominent journalist


1. (U) Summary: Five days after the murder of Tamil
commentator Dharmaretnam Sivaram, a.k.a.Taraki, (see Reftel)
prominent journalists from all political persuasions along
with Members of Parliament and trade unionists gathered on
the occasion of World Press Freedom Day to express concern
for media freedom in Sri Lanka. Approximately five hundred
journalists and others expressed outrage over the death of
one of their own, calling for the protection of free speech
and accountability of the perpetrators. End Summary.

2. (U) Approximately five hundred people gathered for a
demonstration organized by the Free Media Movement,
including the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance MP's Mawai
Senathiraja, M.K. Eelaventhan, and Suresh Premachndran, NULF
(New United Left Front) co-leader Vasudevaa Nanayakkara,
Kumara Rupasinghe of the Foundation for Coexistence (and
former brother in law to the president), deputy editors of
the government-owned Tamil Thinakaran and Sinhala Dinamina
newspapers, editors of pro-LTTE Sudar Oli and investigative,
anti-government Sinhala paper Ravaya, and representatives
from the Federation of Media Trade Unions. Members of the
foreign press and many junior journalists also took part in
the demonstration. Protesters carried handmade signs in
English, Sinhala and Tamil which read, "Death of Shiva =
Death of Free Press," "Chandrika - Douglas - Somawansa
Alliance Responsible," and "Sivaram was killed by the
Alliance." (Note: the "Alliance" refers to the ruling
United People's Freedom Alliance coalition. End Note) Large
preprinted posters bearing the Free Media Movement name and
a photograph of Sivaram covered by a target read, "Never
again, Sivaram: Thank you for your contribution to the
diversity and dynamism of journalism." Former JVP (Janatha
Vimukthi Peramuna) member and Free Media Movement founder
Sunanda Deshapriya said to the crowd, "Whether it is Sinhala
journalists in Jaffna or Tamil journalists in the South,
journalists should be allowed to work anywhere. We're not
for any political party - we are for freedom of expression."

3. (U) TNA MP M.K. Eelaventhan said of Sivaram, "Even those
who disagreed with him loved to hear what he said." Another
TNA MP, Mawai Senathiraja lamented, "There have been some
political killings since the Cease Fire Agreement, but
Sivaram wasn't a political man, he wasn't an LTTE cadre,"
and stated the TNA would demand an international commission
of inquiry into Sivaram's murder. Senathiraja also stated
Sivaram's murder was "a clear indication that journalists
are unable to carry out their duties to the public in an
independent manner. This murder will have an impact on
other journalists in publishing the truth." He agreed to an
MTV interviewer's question that Sivaram's death might
threaten the Cease Fire Agreement, saying, "We are under the
opinion that this is the work of the government with the
EPDP intelligence unit. The LTTE has lost faith in
government because all of these people are harbored in
military camps." (Note: The Eelam People's Democratic
Party, led by Douglas Devananda, is an anti-LTTE Tamil party
and member of the government's coalition. End Note)

4. (U) Comment: Some of the demonstrators were implicitly
blaming the government while others expressed concern mainly
for the free press environment. The demonstration
represented the culmination of five days of media anguish
over the death of a journalist that most of his colleagues
respected. The rally demonstrated the outrage Sivaram's
murder has caused across the political spectrum. Prominent
journalists at a PD-organized DVC with the head of the
International Center for Journalists on the same evening
used the occasion to assert that Sivaram's murder represents
a blow to press freedom in Sri Lanka. However, the
government has not proposed any further restrictions on
media, and while the intimidation factor may affect a few
columnists, it is unlikely that this single, high profile
case will have a lasting effect on the relative freedom
journalists here enjoy to pursue their profession.
Journalists, among others, will continue to use Sivaran's
death, however, to illustrate their support or opposition to
the peace process. End Comment.


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