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'Where else should I die but here?' - Remembering Sivaram 18 years on

Image courtesy of Tamil Narratives

Today marks the 18th anniversary since the abduction and murder of Tamil journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram.

Sivaram, popularly known under his nom-de-plume Taraki, was abducted in front of Bambalipitiya police station in Colombo on April 28 and was found dead several hours later in a high security zone in Sri Lanka's capital, which at the time had a heavy police and military presence due to the ongoing conflict. His killers, highly suspected to be linked to the government of then-president Chandrika Kumaratunga, were never caught.

Read his last article, written just days before he was murdered here.

Also read a speech delivered by former Tamil Guardian editor Vino Kanapathipillai at a commemoration for the slain journalist in 2010, here.

Marking the 15th anniversary of his murder, Sivaram’s children paid tribute to their father in 2020. “More than his family and supporting those in need, defending the sovereignty of his people through his writing was his utmost goal,” they said. “Looking back, we are happy that Appa died doing what he loved the most and hope that one day, his fight for the autonomy of the Tamil people can be realised.”

Read their full piece here.


Tamil journalists terrorised

2005 not only saw the murder of Sivaram, but also of two other Tamil media workers, Mr S Suhirtharajan, Trincomalee correspondent for Sudar Oli, a Tamil daily and Ms Relanki Selvarajah, a Tamil broadcaster.

The anniversary of his death became a macabre display of impunity, with government-linked hitmen using the day to terrorise Tamil journalists, murdering more media personnel around the same day over the next two years.

Two Uthayan staffers were killed a few days after the paper marked Sivaram's death anniversary in 2006. On 29 April 2007, the Uthayan's Selvarajah Rajivarman, 25, was shot and killed by a lone gunman riding a motorbike in Jaffna.

None of the killers were ever caught.


'Shameful crime'

Sivaram was the editor of TamilNet and contributed to a number of other publications throughout his career, including the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Times, the Island and the Virakesari, and was also closely involved with the Tamil Guardian and the development of its staff.

His views and analysis on the Tamil national struggle and military strategy were in regular demand from the diplomatic community and NGOs, and his death was widely condemned, including by the LTTE, Reporters Sans Frontiers and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Several Sinhala journalists, many of whom had worked with Sivaram also paid tribute to his work. UNESCO's director general called the murder a "shameful crime", in a statement marking World Press Freedom Day.



Sivaram faced threats to his life throughout his career, but when urged by friends to leave the island, he often said "Where else should I die but here?".

The Uthayan in an editorial marking his death said he "lived in the Sinhala chauvinists’ den and fearlessly exposed to the world the Sri Lankan state’s false propaganda and repression of the Tamil people."

“Sivaram didn’t raise his voice for Tamil nationalism while living in the safety of a foreign country or away from government controlled areas of this island. His pen started to undermine the Sinhala chauvinists’ ambitions just as the armed fighters did on the battlefield. That is why government terror was unleashed upon him," the Uthayan said.

The LTTE conferred the "Maamanithar" title upon the journalist, the highest civilian honour of the movement.

"Tamil people have lost today a highly principled man who deeply loved them and the Tamil Nation. A voice that echoed the freedom of the Tamil people and their homeland, Tamil Eelam had been silenced today. An eminent Tamil journalist had fallen victim to the enemy’s act of cowardice," LTTE leader V Prabhakaran said in a statement at the time.

Below is an excerpt from the speech delivered by former Tamil Guardian editor Vino Kanapathipillai in London in 2010, at an event marking the fifth anniversary of the death of Sivaram.

"The Tamil Guardian has had a relation with Sivaram almost since it began. He was instructor and mentor to the longer-serving volunteers on the paper. He taught us not only how to write, but how to think through the complexities of politics; to go beyond a surface analysis of a problem and explore the underlying structural movements. For this we are grateful."

"As long as the oppression of Tamils continues, so too must the struggle for Tamil rights. Most of us knew Sivaram through our engagement in this struggle. I think it behoves us all to continue to remain committed, in whatever field we are in, to continue his resistance."

Dharmeratnam 'Taraki' Sivaram

11 August 1959 - 28 April 2005

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