“They killed my son”

Dr Manoharan recalls the day when his son was gunned down by Sri Lanka’s security forces

The last time I heard from my son, Ragihar, was a mobile phone text message. It just said: “DAD”. That was 2 January 2006. He had been on the beach with four of his friends in Trincomalee,Sri Lanka, near our home.

That day, I heard a bomb blast near the beach. Two of my sons got back immediately. Ragihar did not.

 Within minutes of the explosion, I got a call from him. “Daddy,” he said, “the forces are around me.” He meant the security forces. That was all he said. After that, I got the text – my last contact with my son.

I rushed to the scene, but the navy guards there said: “No, you can’t go through at the moment.” They purposefully turned the lights off under the Gandhi statue, where my son and his friends had been sitting. And then I heard voices crying in Tamil: “Help us! Help us!” 

I kept arguing with the guards to let me in. Suddenly, gunfire flared by the Gandhi statue. Later, they said: “Five civilians are dead and two are injured.” I was in total shock.

 Gunshot wounds

I visited the mortuary. When I opened the door, the first body I saw was my son’s. He had five gunshot wounds. While I was there, a police officer demanded that I sign a statement saying that my son belonged to the Tamil Tigers, the armed group fighting for independence in Sri Lanka. He told me if I did this, they would release his body immediately.

Witnesses reported that Ragihar Manoharan was shot dead by Sri Lankan security forces on 2 January 2006. ©Amnesty International

I refused. I told him that my son is not a Tamil Tiger. He is a sports person, a table tennis player and coach – he coaches police officers and children. He is a chess player, a student, a good boy.

The government claimed that my son and his friends were killed in a grenade attack. But three of the boys had head wounds – all of them shot through the back of the head. I have photographs, and the doctor’s report confirms this. The entry hole was small, and the exit wound was big. That shows they shot Ragihar at very close range.

Challenging the authorities

That night, I took a decision. I would challenge the authorities, no matter what. I was the first to give evidence in my son’s case in Sri Lanka. I said it was clear to me thatSri Lanka’s Special Task Forces had killed my son.

From the moment I spoke out, I received death threats. My sons were threatened. My lawyer, too. The journalist Mr Sugirdharajan who came with me to the mortuary and took photos and video was shot dead a few weeks later. His photos disproved the army's claim that the students were killed by a grenade explosion. A Buddhist priest who publicly condemned Ragihar’s murder was also killed. This shows how far the authorities were willing to go to hide the truth about what they had done to my son. It was too dangerous for my family to stay inSri Lanka, so we left in December 2006.

Since then, my wife and I have been fighting for an international investigation into our son’s killing. It has been seven years. We lost our family, friends, medical practice, property. My wife cries every day in front of Ragihar’s photograph.

My call to you

In September, I will be going to the UN in Geneva. There, I will hand over a petition demanding that the Sri Lankan government release its 2006 Presidential Commission report into “16 serious human rights violations”. One of those 16 violations is the killing of the “Trinco-5” – as my son and his friends are now known.

I gave evidence to the Commission in that case. I have a right to know what is in that report. I believe it will reveal the names of my son’s killers and expose what really happened.

Before Ragihar died, he cried out to me for help. This is my call to you. Please sign this petition and share it and our story with as many of your friends as you can. The more people sign, the more people I have standing beside me. And the more people beside me, the stronger and louder our call for justice for Ragihar’s killing. When justice is served – when Sri Lanka finally tells the truth about what happened to my son – then we can say that Ragihar’s call for help has finally been heard.

Act now

Sign our petition calling for human rights progress in Sri Lanka, including the release of the report that will expose the truth about what happened to Ragihar.