During the National New Year when the Sinhala and Tamil communities came together for festivities of deep unity in diversity it was sad to hear of yet another attack on the Jaffna-based Tamil newspaper ‘Uthayan’. This attack, the 16th since 2006, on the leading Tamil newspaper in the North was a clear sign of the lawlessness or total breakdown of the rule of law in the country and the government’s failure to turn the LTTE defeat into lasting peace, reconciliation and justice for the people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The attack on the Uthayan was the second in two weeks after the newspaper’s Kilinochchi office was attacked on April 3 by masked assailants. A crude and blatant government propagandist in the state media tried to imply or deceive the people that the attacks were inside jobs intended to gain publicity for the newspaper and discredit the government. This was similar to the 2009 attack on the Sirasa MTV office in Pannipitiya, two days after the TV station made an official complaint to the police that it had received reliable information of an attack on the TV station. As usual the Police Chief assigned several special teams which went here, there and eventually nowhere until the attack took place. If that was bad enough what followed was worse and scandalous. Government propaganda organs first implied that it was a publicity stunt by the TV station. They then concocted some stories about UNP parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake’s supporters carrying out the attack for some personal reasons. Whatever happened, the special police teams have made little or no progress in finding the political ghosts who carried out the attack. On Tuesday the Sirasa MTV group complained to the Kompannaveediya police saying they had information of a group of thugs planning to attack the TV station and the journalists because of a particular story highlighted by the station last week. As usual the Police Chief asked the Kompannaveediya police and the Colombo Crime Detection Unit to probe the complaint but Sirasa MTV journalists say if the attack takes place they may say it’s an inside job or was carried out by political ghosts who have returned to political graves in Kanatta.
But scores of other instances where journalists were killed or abducted are still at a dead end where police are concerned though most discerning readers or listeners know what would have happened or who did what.
As for the Uthayan, three employees have been killed in the attacks carried out since 2006 and we congratulate Uthayan for couragesly facing these cowardly attacks by politically-sponsored goons or ‘gundas’.
The impact of attacks on Uthayan has gone beyond Jaffna or Sri Lanka to an international level. The US Ambassador Michelle J. Sison urged the government to fully investigate the attack, while the US government itself has reminded the government that support for media freedom was one of the many recommendations of the LLRC report and a part of the resolution adopted in the UNHRC sessions in March.
The Rajapaksa regime has a notorious record regarding media freedom with Amnesty International reporting that at least 14 journalists have been killed since 2006 and many more have fled the country because of the climate of impunity. If the government does not take immediate steps to restore media freedom and stop the abuse of public funds by the state media which is indulging in the worst ever propaganda, then the government will continue to hit the world headlines for the breakdown of democracy, the rule of law and independence of judiciary, accountability and good governance.