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III. A Culture of Fear: LTTE Intimidation, Threats, and Violence

In Sri Lanka, there is nothing scarier than being a Tamil person of influence—whether you are a teacher, a school principal, a doctor, a journalist, a politician, or a successful businessman. Ordinary Tamils have learned to keep their heads down, do exactly what their neighbors do, and not make waves. These lessons traveled with them to Toronto and London and Paris—where the LTTE and its supporters continued to take over and monopolize social structures, from refugee relief in the 1980s to newspapers, shops and temples. A few threats, a few smear campaigns, a murder or two, and the lesson is reinforced.
—a Western Sri Lanka expert27

A history of LTTE violence in both Sri Lanka and the West has created a climate of fear for many within the Tamil diaspora, discouraging statements, activities, or even social interactions that may be perceived as critical of the LTTE. Many members of the Tamil community closely follow events in Sri Lanka’s North and East, where the LTTE has systematically assassinated perceived Tamil rivals not only during the war, but also throughout the four-year ceasefire. As noted above, since the beginning of the ceasefire, over 200 people, mostly Tamil, have been killed apparently for political reasons, mainly at the hands of the LTTE. Those killed included teachers, journalists, individuals linked with opposition parties, and others perceived as critical of the LTTE. Some apparently have been killed solely for working in educational, social or religious programs funded by the Sri Lankan government. For many Tamils in the West with family members remaining in Sri Lanka, the message was that any act of disloyalty may result in death.  

Tamils in the West have been subject to death threats, beatings, property damage, smear campaigns, fabricated criminal charges, and even murder as a consequence of dissent. Although incidents of actual violence have been relatively rare, they reverberate strongly within the community and effectively discourage others from expressing views that counter the LTTE.

In November 2005, a German Tamil named Vaithiyanathan Loganathan was attacked and severely beaten after he and several other German Tamils organized a memorial event in Dusseldorf for the former principal of Central College, a large and prominent school in Jaffna. The principal, Kanakapathy Rajadurai, known to oppose the LTTE’s recruitment of children, was shot and killed at his school on October 12, 2005. The organizers of the German memorial event were all former students at the college. Loganathan had also taught there from 1979 to 1982.28

Prior to the memorial, Loganathan’s fellow organizers received as many as five or six threatening phone calls per day. Fearing a disturbance at the event, the organizers approached the local police, who sent several uniformed officers to monitor it.

Loganathan chaired the event and gave a tribute to Rajadurai. He condemned those responsible for his death, but did not attribute the killing to any particular group. At least one other speaker at the memorial, however, alleged that the LTTE was responsible.

The event itself went smoothly, but afterwards Loganathan’s fellow organizers again received threatening telephone calls. On November 12, a week after the event, Loganathan was assaulted when he went to pick up his wife from her shop in nearby Essen. He was attacked from behind by two men who pushed him to the ground and beat his head repeatedly with glass bottles. A third man beat his right leg with an iron bar. The attackers made no effort to take his money or other valuables. They ran away after patrons of a restaurant next door shouted and called the police.

Loganathan suffered two fractures in his right leg, lost several teeth, and required thirteen stitches on his head. He was hospitalized for three days, required extensive physical therapy, and two months after the attack still had not returned to work. He told Human Rights Watch, “I believe that if the people in the neighborhood hadn’t seen the attack and called for help, I probably would have died that day.”29

Witnesses described the assailants as two white men and one dark-skinned man. A few days after the attack an LTTE-linked Tamil website,, stated that it had received a telephone call from a pro-LTTE group, “Anniyan Padai,” claiming responsibility for the assault. According to the caller said, “We have already taught Loganathan a lesson and the next person we target will be a woman.”30

Speaking to us two months after the assault, Loganathan said,

Over the last decade and a half, there have been many incidents like this, mainly against people who attempt to put any ideas against the LTTE or criticism against the LTTE . . . so periodically, there are these attacks to keep the community quiet.

Fear is always there that there is a death threat hanging over me. This meeting was a memorial meeting. I can’t give up my right to express myself, my freedom of expression. For example, now I might go on the radio to express my views or I might speak at a cultural event. This would be considered against them [LTTE] . . . So the fear of another attack is very present.31

Diaspora journalists have learned that publishing or broadcasting information that is critical of the LTTE can carry a heavy price. In the mid-1990s, prominent Tamil journalist DBS Jeyaraj published Muncharie, an independent Tamil weekly in Toronto that carried news and features related to events in Sri Lanka and the Tamil community in the West. As the Sri Lankan army began to make advances against the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the paper reported the LTTE’s defeats, while other Tamil newspapers portrayed LTTE operations in a more favorable light. As a result of his coverage, Jeyaraj began to receive systematic, threatening phone calls on a daily basis. In November 1995 he received thirty-seven abusive calls in a single day.

When he continued to publish critical accounts of LTTE losses, pro-LTTE operatives began to target Jeyaraj’s advertisers and the Tamil shops that carried his paper. In one instance, pro-LTTE operatives visited ten to fifteen shops that carried the paper, seized copies of the paper, and dumped them. Losing circulation and advertising revenue, Jeyaraj was forced to stop publishing the paper in 1995.32

In February 1993, in an incident that is widely known in the Tamil community, four individuals attacked Jeyaraj in a car parking lot after he attended a movie with his wife. The assailants beat Jeyaraj with baseball bats, and broke both of his legs. Although he reported the incident to the police, and Jeyaraj had information about the identity of his assailants, no one was ever arrested for the crime.

Even after thirteen years, the attack on Jeyaraj continues to have a chilling effect on Tamil journalism in the West. Journalists who are encouraged to report LTTE abuses reply, “Do you want me to end up like Jeyeraj?” Dissidents often cite Jeyeraj’s experiences as a reason why many members of the community dare not express views that challenge the LTTE.33

Another incident frequently cited by Tamils is the 1994 murder of Sabaratnam Sabalingam in Paris. Sabalingam was reportedly preparing to publish an anti-LTTE book, based on his acquaintance with LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, when he was shot and killed execution-style in front of his family. Suspects in the murder—two trained Tiger militants—were identified but never charged, reportedly because witnesses were not willing to testify.34

Threats against independent Tamil journalists continue. Newspaper publishers have been pressured to drop the writers of articles perceived to be critical of the LTTE.35 Individual journalists told Human Rights Watch that they received threatening phone calls. An LTTE supporter reportedly told one Tamil journalist, “If you don’t support the LTTE cause in your newspaper, we will deal with you.”36

In October 2005, an Australian group linked to the LTTE issued death threats against Selliah Nagarajah, a political columnist and law lecturer at the University of Western Australia. The group, Ellalan Padai, reportedly distributed handbills at a Hindu temple in Melbourne warning Nagarajah to stop writing about the LTTE, and stated, “This is our final warning.”37  The same month Nagarajah received a letter warning, “Your writing will end up in your death. This is the time to weed out traitors; very soon the Tamil world and your friends will know of your death; this will teach a lesson to other traitors.”38

Staff and volunteers at the London-based Tamil Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) have been particular targets. The TBC is an independent radio station that regularly broadcasts programs that are critical of LTTE abuses. TBC’s program director, V. Ramaraj, has received repeated death threats, and volunteers at the station regularly receive abusive and threatening telephone calls.

One volunteer who participates in a weekly TBC program told Human Rights Watch in November 2005, “When I started helping TBC, I started to get calls. They threatened my wife, told her I should stop helping the TBC, and told her that the TBC is traitorous radio.” He said that some calls threatened harm if he returned to the North of Sri Lanka. He said that in August 2005, one caller told him, “They will put you behind bars, you are a traitor, you will be killed.”39 In late 2005, the volunteer’s wife received an e-mail message telling her that her husband should stop going to the TBC. “You have three children, tell your husband to get out of it, otherwise you will become a widow.”40

In July 2004, a caller to TBC threatened to bomb the radio station. In May 2005, intruders broke into TBC’s London offices, damaging property and stealing broadcasting equipment. Although the London Metropolitan police investigated the incident, no one was charged with the crime.

The TBC is run nearly entirely through voluntary contributions from the Tamil community. A representative remarked, “We can’t run commercially. If people advertise with us, they get intimidated, get visits. So we can’t get any commercials.”41

Tamil activists in both the U.K. and Canada have been subjected to smear campaigns for speaking out against LTTE abuses or organizing events independent of the LTTE. The volunteer with TBC mentioned above said that at a social function in late 2005, he learned that rumors were spreading in the Tamil community that he was receiving money from the Indian secret service. He said, “They are talking about me in London, spreading stories that I am a traitor. I came to help TBC to expose the truth and see fairness. I feel like I have to help, but they are projecting it like I am doing something wrong.”42 In December 2005, Seyed Bazeer, a U.K.-based lawyer, was accused by an LTTE-associated website of being linked to Al-Qaeda after he had spoken publicly against LTTE killings of Muslims in eastern Sri Lanka. The website, Nitharsanam, claimed that Bazeer, a Tamil-speaking Muslim, was the U.K. representative of the Sri Lankan arm of Al-Qaeda, and was “known to incite violence by spreading Osama Bin Laden’s jihad theology and ideology.” The site published a photo of Bazeer and urged U.K. government action to “curb the activities of such individuals.”43

Members of the Tamil diaspora are justifiably concerned when they are targeted on LTTE-linked websites. Just two months before the accusations against Bazeer, Nitharasanam published a reference to K. Rajadurai, the principal of Central College in Jaffna, stating that “his corpse would be found soon with a name board around his neck.” Rajadurai was shot and killed at his school shortly afterwards (see above).44

In October 2005, Toronto police arrested a Tamil community leader, Namu Ponnambalam, after an LTTE supporter falsely accused him of assault. In late September Ponnambalam had helped to organize and had chaired a public meeting featuring V. Anandasangari, the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, a political party in Sri Lanka. A week later, at an October 4 memorial for assassinated Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a member of the audience claimed that Ponnambalam and several others had threatened and physically attacked him at the previous week’s event. Ponnambalam was arrested by police, handcuffed, and taken to a Toronto police station where he was questioned. He was released within a few hours when it became apparent that the accusations were without foundation. However, the details of his arrest were published in Eellanadu, a prominent Tamil newspaper in Toronto.45 Ponnambalam believes that the publicity the newspaper gave to the incident was a deliberate attempt to intimidate him and members of his family and to damage his reputation.46

The LTTE and its supporters often use family members—both in the West and in Sri Lanka—to convey warnings to dissidents. In Toronto, one activist received a telephone call from a relative saying that an LTTE representative had warned that “If you are not going to control yourself, they will take care of you.”47 A London activist who criticized the LTTE on a radio program was later contacted by his brother in Sri Lanka. The brother had been invited to a colleague’s home, where he was met by two LTTE members. The LTTE reportedly told him, “Your brother should shut up; otherwise it is not good for him.” The colleague later admitted that he had invited the brother to his home under explicit instructions from the LTTE. The London activist said, “My brother is very worried about his own family.”48

In many cases, overt or even implicit threats are not necessary to silence LTTE critics. Well-known incidents of killings, assaults, threats, and targeting have prompted members of the Tamil diaspora to police themselves. Relatives often discourage family members from speaking out, worried about possible repercussions, including to family members in Sri Lanka. Continued political killings attributed to the LTTE in Sri Lanka have convinced many Tamils that anyone could be at risk.

One Toronto man involved in a cultural organization that has been repeatedly identified as “anti-LTTE” in the Tamil media described the impact of the LTTE’s control over the Tamil community: “Canada is not actually a democracy because we can’t even open our mouths against the LTTE. People are scared to open their mouths. Only a small minority are willing to open their mouths and do some small, small work.”49

In London, a Tamil man who said he was once a strong supporter of the LTTE told us:

Personally, I supported the LTTE. Ninety percent of our people support them. Most of the people are behind them, even if you don’t take the gun, we support them. But later on, things change and certain groups are targeted. Whoever questions them. We can see their behavior. Whoever asks questions about their activities, they don’t let them live. You don’t have any freedom of speech. I was very quiet for some time, having family in Sri Lanka, so I kept within limits. I didn’t want to expose myself. I can see by experiences that if I do anything, there is a lot of reaction. . . . I’m concerned about my life and my family. The community is very scared.50

A Toronto Tamil who was once targeted for her activity in a multicultural organization, said, “I used to openly say how I feel, but now am very careful. People who are open get targeted, so their work is very short. You start something, you want to work for human rights, you want to make changes, but the space is very limited.”51

[27] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, February 2006.

[28] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with V. Loganathan, Dusseldorf, Germany, January 23, 2006.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “‘Anniyan Padai’ (Force) again warns!!” November 16, 2005,

[31] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with V. Loganathan, Dusseldorf, Germany, January 23, 2006.

[32] For excerpts of the “Open Letter” published by DBS Jeyaraj regarding his decision to suspend publication of Muncharie, see “The Death of a Newspaper,“ Sunday Times (Sri Lanka), April 7, 1996, reproduced online at (retrieved February 10, 2006); see also Canadian Security Intelligence Service, “International Terrorism: The Threat to Canadians,” RCMP Gazette, Vol 63, No. 6.

[33] Human Rights Watch interviews, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[34] See Stewart Bell, “Threat to Canadians?” National Post, June 6, 2001.

[35] Human Rights Watch interviews, Toronto, Canada, November 2005 and January 2006.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

[37] “Life threat on the life of Selliah Nagarajan,” Asian Tribune, October 4, 2005, [online] (retrieved February 10, 2006).

[38] A copy of this letter is on file at Human Rights Watch.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., November 2005.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with TBC staff, London, U.K., November 2005.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., November 2005.

[43] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, London, January 12, 2006; See, December 9, 2005, [online]

[44] University Teachers for Human Rights, Bulletin No. 39, November 2005.

[45] “Thugs Attack Person who asked Questions at Anandasangaree’s Meeting,” Eellanadu, September 12, 2005.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

[48] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, London, U.K., January 2006.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., November 2005.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

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