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Justice demanded for Isaipriya at Galle Face protest

Protestors at Colombo’s Galle Face Green called for justice for famed Tamil newsreader Isaipriya, who was executed by the Sri Lankan army in 2009.

Yesterday marked her 40th birthday.

As part of the continuous protest in Sri Lanka’s capital, demonstrators held a photograph of Isaipriya alongside other media workers, in a call for accountability and justice. "Rajapaksas - their blood is on your hands," read the banner.

Shoba, better known by her nom de plume Isaipriya, was just 27 years old when she was killed.

A regular figure as a newsreader and telecaster, she was a well-known and much loved across the Tamil homeland and the large Tamil diaspora. She presented the news on the National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTT) and featured in the LTTE’s Oliveechchu videos that were distributed around the world.

Reportedly born in Neduntheevu, Isaipriya studied at the Vembadi Girls’ High School in Jaffna until 1996. Her family were later displaced to Vanni as the armed conflict escalated.

In 2009, Isaipriya, alongside hundreds of thousands of other Tamils, was further displaced by a Sri Lankan military offensive. During the final stages of the armed conflict, her 6-month-old baby girl, named Akal, was killed.

Isaipriya was amongst the tens of thousands of Tamils killed in that offensive twelve years ago. Video footage taken on mobile phones by Sri Lankan soldiers, show her being dragged up from a ditch, half-naked and being led away. Photos of her dead body, bearing visible signs of torture and sexual abuse, were unearthed in 2010.

The Sri Lankan army initially boasted of its killing, displaying Isaipriya’s name on an official military website alongside other LTTE cadres. The military stated they had been “killed on 18 May 2009 by 53 Division troops”. 

A UN investigation found:

“Reasonable grounds to believe that security forces captured Isaipriya alive and then killed her with gunshots to the head execution style. Further, based on the images of Isaipriya’s dead body and those of many other women, the OISL believes that Isaipriya’s dead body was desecrated.” 

The head of the 53 Division is now Sri Lanka’s defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne. Major General Harendra Ranasinghe, who has been identified in a video clip where Isaipriya is seen alive and surrounded by Sri Lankan soldiers in 2009, has since been appointed commander of the newly-formed 1 Corps.

No one was ever held accountable for the crime.

“Ranasinghe to date has never been questioned about what happened though he’s clearly visible in the video with Isaipriya, whose semi-naked corpse was also seen in trophy photographs,” said the ITJP in 2020, after he was promoted up a rank last year.

“One has to ask what it means to Isaipriya’s surviving family – driven into exile – to see a material witness to their daughter’s execution promoted to Major General,” said ITJP’s Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka.

Isaipriya's mother and two sisters fled to the UK, where they sought asylum. Her mother told Channel 4 that she had always thought that Isaipriya had died a victim of shelling, and only found out about her execution after the videos had emerged.

Photograph: Courtesy of Pugazhenthi

“My daughter Shoba was a media personality,” her mother said in a later interview. “She worked for NTT as a newsreader and cultural show host.”

“Tamil people should always remember her in that way and keep her in their hearts.”

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