The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is extremely concerned about the continuing and increasing attacks and prohibitions faced by media workers in Sri Lanka’s Jaffna region.
Jaffna’s Uthayan newspaper and its staff have been reportedly harassed by military and paramilitary organisations aligned to the Government, which has been engaged in violent fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) 2006.
Uthayan, which was founded in1985, has come under increasing pressure since the war re-erupted 18 months ago. Four Uthayan employees have been murdered, while others have been kidnapped, threatened and censored. Of a staff of 20, only four remain working for the paper. The editor, Mr M.V. Kanamailnathan, has not left the office for more than a year for fear of being killed.
Two of the paper’s journalists were murdered in connection with a cartoon mocking the leader of the paramilitary EPDP group, Douglas Devananda. Another journalist and a delivery driver were also murdered.
Computers at the office have been destroyed and newsprint stores set on fire in targeted attacks.
On November 17 a proofreader for the paper, Mr Vadivel Nimalarajah, was reported missing.
Uthayan's Managing Directorm, Eswarapatham Saravanapavan said that the paper’s remaining staff are highly stressed and in perpetual fear for their lives. He does not think the Government can be relied upon to provide protection, but says something concrete must be done to safeguard the security of Uthayan and other media workers in Jaffna.
“We seek the international community to study the prevailing situation and to practise proper measures which will stand for freedom of speech and expression,” Mr Saravanapavan said.
Uthayan is not the only media outlet under attack. Fears are held for the safety of Anthonypillai Sherin Sithranjan, a newspaper delivery man for Yal Thinakkural, who has been missing since November 5. He was last seen taking papers for distribution from the office.
According to Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement (FMM), Mr Sithranjan is the sixteenth media person to be killed or abducted in the past two years. Fifteen of these people are from the minority Tamil community.
The isolated Jaffna region, in Sri Lanka’s far north, is one of the most dangerous places in the world in which to be a media worker. Aside from the very serious impacts on press freedom, more than 5,000 people have been killed since fighting resumed last year.
There is extreme militarisation in the region. Curfews, restricted movement, intimidation and constant identity checks mean that journalists and other media workers are hampered in their efforts to report on the situation.
“Views outside the official line propagated by the state are not tolerated,” Mr Saravanapavan said.
It is in this context that journalists and media workers are often caught in the crossfire between government forces, paramilitary forces and the LTTE. Many fear reprisals for the articles, commentaries, photos and cartoons they produce.
“It is appalling that media workers at all levels are being targeted with extreme violence,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. “We need to fight for an environment in Jaffna where journalists are no longer vulnerable and are free to report without fear or persecution.”
The IFJ is writing to the Government of Sri Lanka and President Mahinda Rajapaksa to condemn the violence against media workers in Jaffna and to call for concrete actions to protect journalists and guarantee press freedom in Jaffna and throughout Sri Lanka.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries