By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
A series of cartoons ridiculing Social Services minister and Eelam Peoples Democratic party Secretary – General Douglas Devananda may have resulted in the attack on the “Uthayan” Tamil daily newspaper say informed sources in Tamil media circles.Two employees were killed and two injured seriously when armed Tamil youths suspected of belonging to the EPDP attacked the office of “Uthayan” published in Jaffna.
Five armed youths speaking fluent Tamil were involved in the attack which caused casualties among the non – editorial department staff though the assailants had come in search of two journalists working on the newspaper. The gunmen had also wrecked office equipment including computers before they left. A sixth youth was guarding the assassins’ vehicles on the road.
It was around 7. 45 in the evening on May 2nd when a young man wearing black trousers and a dark blue shirt arrived at the f entrance of the “Uthayan” office located in a builiding , once owned by a prominent Aayurvedha doctor, on Kasthuriyar street in Jaffna town. He informed the unarmed security personnel from a private firm on duty at the entrance that he wanted to meet Mr. Kuganathan of the editorial dept. [Pic: TamilNet]
Kuganathan called Kugan is a senior reporter at Uthayan. It is Kugan who travels frequently to Kilinochchi to attend press conferences held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or interview tiger officials for his paper.Kugan had also gone to Geneva for the latest round of talks between the Government and the tigers.
Since the newspaper adopted certain procedures for security purposes the young man was told that he could not meet Kuganathan and that he could write down his particulars and reason for wanting to meet Kugan on paper which would be passed on.
Thereafter the youth wanted to meet Jegatheewswaran called Jegan another senior editorial staffer. Jegan was the usual night editor but was on leave on that day. Upon being told that Jegan was not working that night the young man got visibly angry and telephoned someone on his cellular phone. In an angry voice he told someone in Tamil ” Inge karaichhal. Udane Vaangadappa” (There is a problem here. You all come immediately).
At this point two men wearing dark clothes with balaclavas masking their face rushed in. Almost simultaneously two others in similiar clothing and balaclavas jumped over the wall into the compound.
They had been waiting in a three – wheeler and motor cycle parked close by on the road.Three of the youths had guns believed to be T – 56 ‘s or AK 47’s. The other two had hand guns. A sixth person waited with the vehicles on the road. While one youth with a handgun stood guard over the security guard the other two youths rushed in through the front entrance. They were closely followed by the other two armed goons.
Even as they entered the armed hoodlums began firing indiscriminately at some employees seated at the front office. There were six employees in the front. At least four were hit. The gunmen now began shouting the names of Kugan, Jegan and editor Vithyatharan saying they were going to kill them. . Panic stricken “uthayan” employees began to run away away from the spot.
The front office had the administration, advertising and circulation departments. The editorial dept was at the back on the upper section of a newly constructed extension.No outsiders are allowed in to the editorial. There were about 30 people working in the various sections of the office at that time. Hearing the gunfire most of them ran away through other back entrances and escaped death.
The “Uthayan” office complex comprised three adjacent houses that were inter – connected. The gunmen fortunately seemed to have no idea about the internal office geography.Two of the gunmen ran around the office searching for the journalists but were unable to locate the editorial dept. By this time the journalists had jumped over the back wall with some others and escaped.
When the editorial dept was located there were no journalists there.Meanwhile the others began firing at random within the office.Employees had already run for safety as the firing in bursts began. The gunmen also fired at and also smashed the office equipment. More than twenty computers were wrecked. The goondas also searched for the printing press but could not discover where it was.
The gunmen were in a highly emotional state. They were shouting out threats against the paper and staff while going round and round the premises in a wild state shooting all over. They screamed out that the paper was a tiger paper in raw filth.The gunmen had been in the office on their violent spree for about 15 minutes.
The gunmen were unable to find Kugan or the other journalists on duty. There were four people in the editorial section but they were all unharmed. But two other employees were killed. One was 37 year old Bastian George Sahayathas also called Suresh who was the circulation manager. The other killed was 25 year old Ranjithkumar Rajaratnam the circulation superviser.
Employees who ran away returned slowly after the assailants left. They attended immediately to the needs of injured colleagues.
Two persons with serious injuries were admitted to the Jaffna hospital. They were N. Thayaparan and S. Uthayakumar all from the circulation dept. Three others received minor non – gunshot injuries.
The assailants then sped off in their vehicles towards the Manipay road side. There were two army sentry posts on either direction of Kasthuriar road but no security personnel attempted to stop the vehices. In fact no security person was sighted at the time of or immediately after the attack.
It is suspected that the armed youths belonged to the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party.. In recent times the EPDP has enhanced its ranks by enlisting members of the Karuna faction, PLOTE mohan group members and EPRLF Razeek group remnants. While Social Services minister Douglas Devananda and others like Maheswari Velayutham, S. Thavarajah etc present the “democratic” face of the EPDP to the world at large other sinister elements working alongside the security forces are engaged in violent activity.
Many of the recent assassinations in the North – East are attributed to the EPDP .The people killed were Tamil civilians suspected of having links to the LTTE or being tiger sympathisers. It is also common knowledge in the north that EPDP members demand money from businessmen regarded as LTTE supporters. Those who pay up are spared while others who refuse are killed. EPDP controlled media then depict these killings as having been committed by the LTTE.
The reason for targetting the “Uthayan” newspaper is seen as politicallly motivated.The “Uthayan” is a Tamil daily published in Jaffna from 1986 onwards. Its sister paper “Sudaroli” is published from Colombo since 2000. Its managing director is Mr. Saravanabhavaan who earlier ran a finance company in Jaffna that wound up business amidst controversial circimstances leaving many depositors high and dry. The Managing editor is Mr. Vithyadharan who worked earlier in the “Dhinapathy” run by the MD Gunasena group.Both Saravanabhavaan and Vithyatharan are close relatives.
The “Uthayan” and “Sudaroli” have been pushing an unambiguous pro – tiger line in their editorial columns. Their websites proudly displayed pictures of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakharan reading the papers avidly. The only instance of the tiger supremo posing for an “advertisement” boosting privately owned newspapers.This phenomenon has made many suspect that the LTTE had invested heavily in the journals.
The newspapers also maintain close contact with LTTE leaders like Anton Balasingham and Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan.This enables the newspapers to publish many scoops and exclusives relating to LTTE affairs. This in turn has led to many news agencies and journalists quoting the “Uthayan/ Sudaroli”in their reports. The news and views expressed are often cited as reflecting LTTE thoughts accurately.
The newspapers also carry venomous articles and news items attacking Tamil individuals who anger the LTTE. TULF leader Veerasingham Anandasangaree has been often attacked. So too have been Lakshman Kadirgamar and Douglas Devananda. Even journalists like this writer have been attacked in these columns. Tha hatchet job on myself was done at the behest of a veteran tiger ideologue.
It is this impression that the “Uthayan/ Sudaroli” was pro – tiger that may have led to this attack. It is possible that the management had been approached for “Kaappam” and been refused. This may have led to the attack.
Another possibility is that a series of recent cartoons had offended the EPDP deeply. One of them showed Douglas Devananda prostrating himself in front of Mahinda Rajapakse.I
Individual journalists like Jegan who wrote the highly popular “Theradi Arattai” (chariotside gossip)political column or Kugan the accredited political affairs reporter may have been the specific targets to drive home a lesson.
Sadly the point missed in these types of action is that every newspaper or journalist is entitled to freedom of _expression. The LTTE through its violent acts in Sri Lanka and abroad terrorised Tamil journalists into toeing their line. The Tamil weekly” Muncharie” that I edited in Toronto had to cease publication because the tigers intimidated advertisers and Tamil shopkeepers selling the paper. I was also the victim of assault and threats. I mention this to illustrate that the LTTE now condemning the attack on “uthayan” is no true respecter of press freedom.
Having “disciplined” the Tamil media into following their line the LTTE has in recent times not felt any threat from the media. They are “conditioned” like Pavlovian dogs and follow the approved line without any pressure. But the anti – tiger groups resent this. Their efforts to mould Tamil media in their favour are yet to bear fruit. One major reason for this apart from LTTE conditioning is the oppressive activity of the state and its agencies. Most Tamils have strong feelings about this.
The anti – tiger groups are also as bad as the LTTE on issues like media freedom. Sadly individual journalists have been attacked and killed.Nimalarajan, Nadesan, Sivaram, Sugirtharajan were all killed by anti – tiger elements. Sugirtharajan was the “Uthayan” reporter for Trincomalee.
It is against this backdrop that the attack on “Uthayan” office has to be viewed. The paper has often fallen afoul of the military in Jaffna too. A few years ago grenades were thrown at the office. Bombs were also thrown at the Colombo office killing a security guard.What seems to have transpired now is a convergence of interests between security personnel and Tamil paramilitaries in targetting the “Uthayan”. It does seem unbelievable that such an attack could have been launched without security force support.
My position on this issue is clear. I do not for a moment approve of the Uthayan or its despicable editorial policy. It deserves the highest condemnation. At the same time I strongly support the “Uthayan’s right to express its views. However much I disapprove of it, I do recognize and accept it as their fundamental right. No one can deny them that right. Least of all by cowardly attacks like these where innocent employees arre killed and injured. I condemn this attack on “Uthayan” vehemently and urge that those responsible be arrested.
Given past history this is not going to happen. Already the security forces have concocted a story where they claim to have fired at two persons on a motor cycle near the Sivan temple. The men had “escaped” after conveniently dropping a T – 56 for the security men to recover.
When the UNP’s Karu Jayasuriya telephoned Mahinda Rajapakse to protest at the attack the President said that security personnel were fighting with the suspected assailants even as the telephone conversation was on. Knowing the heat was on due to international media attention the “authorities” in Jaffna began to act fast.There was string pressure from “lokka” that action be taken to prove to the world that justice was being done.
Four Eastern youths were staying at a house in Jaffna and studying for their A’ levels. Two were from Trincomalee and two were from Batticaloa. They were arrested as suspects. Two other young men were working in a jewellery business at Kannathiddy. The two youths were playing cards when they were arrested. Six persons were involved in the “uthayan” attack. Hey Presto! The cops had their six suspects.
They were produced in court the following day but were released on bail .It is an open secret that the arrested persons were innocent. Several media outlets have stated so publicly. Representations have been made to the Human Rights Commission that the arrested persons are totally innocent.
Instead of going after the prime suspects the EPDP the cops are attempting to obstruct justce by apprehending innocent people and making them scapegoats.
The EPDP has begun regaling the media that the LTTE was responsible for this and was now trying to tarnish the image of the EPDP by shifting blame on them. The reason attributed by the EPDP for the LTTE to target the “Uthayan” was that the paper had published an interview with Mahinda Rajapakse recently.
“Uthayan” editor Vithyatharan who was in Colombo at the time of the attack told media that a Tamil paramilitary group was responsible. He also pointed out that several security posts were in the neighbourhood.
Managing director Saravanabhavaan told President Rajapakse the same when Mahinda said “this has been done to discredit the government”. The “Tamilnet” says that an EPDP member was seen among the attackers.
What is tragic and ironic about the incident is that it happened on the eve of World press day. A three day Thamasha is organized in Colombo for the event.It was only in the evening that journalists demonstrated in Fort protesting attacks on the media. Journalists were being hosted for dinner by media minister Priyadarshana Yapa when news of the Uthayan attack was received.
Media movement convenor Sunanda Deshapriya expresed his protest at the incident and most Sri Lankan journalists walked out from dinner in solidarity with their beleaguered colleagues.
LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakharan has ordered that compensation be paid out of LTTE funds to the victims. The families of the dead persons are to get one lakh each and the injured persons 50, 000 rupees each. A hartal was organized in Jaffna to mourn the dead Uthayan staffers and others killed in recent violence.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement released after the killings, said that it “condemns” the attack on the Tamil-language daily. “CPJ calls on the government to fully investigate the attack and take measures to ensure the security of all media workers as more attacks undermine the increasingly unstable truce since planned peace talks faltered in April,” the CPJ statement said.
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalist (IFJ), in statement calling Sri Lanka a “deathtrap for journalism,” said, “The IFJ is calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into these killings in order to allay any suspicions of official state involvement in the attack.”
“Intimidation of journalists working in the Northern and Western Tamil areas must be recognized as unacceptable state targeting of papers taking a pro-Tamil nationalism editorial stance,” IFJ President Christopher Warren further said in the statement
It is good that organizations in Lanka and abroad are issuing condemnatory statements. This is most welcome. One only hopes that these media organizations will be critical of the LTTE when the tigers attack journalists too.
The Sri Lankan media in general and Tamil media in particular are under grave threat. The “Uthayan” attack is symptomatic of this. The attack on “Uthayan” has to be condemned strongly. My deepest sympathies to the families of the innocent victims. [transCurrents.com]
Contact DBS Jeyaraj : firstname.lastname@example.org