UPDATE: Gunmen attack Jaffna Uthayan newspaper office

(03:24 GMT) An unknown group of gunmen has carried out a pre-dawn attack on the Uthayan newspaper main office and set fire to the printing machines in the heart of the heavily-guarded Northern Jaffna town on Saturday, the Editor of the ill-fated newspaper said this morning.

“The office was busy getting ready for the routine distribution of newspapers when the group of three gunmen entered the printing section of the office around 5 am after threatening security guards and other workers at gun-point. As they entered the printing section, they opened fire at the machineries before pouring patrol they brought on the machineries and the news prints and set them ablaze,” the Editor of the Newspaper, Premananth Thevanayagam told the JDS via phone from Jaffna.

“Speaking in Tamil, the attackers have threatened the staff at the printing section to disperse showing their guns and pistols. When the staff refused to obey them, they opened fire at them and the machineries, before setting them on fire. Fortunately, no one is injured in the early morning rampage,” he said.

Machines damaged beyond repairs

Calling it a yet another “blatant and well-planned attack” on the newspaper, he said that the main printing machine has been damaged beyond repairs during the pre-dawn arson attack.

“We will not be able to print the newspaper in full strength from now as our main printing machine is damaged beyond repairs. The attackers have also burnt the printed supplementary materials for the Sunday issue, before fleeing the scene” Editor Premananth said.

It was only last week that the Uthayan newspaper’s delivery office in the military garrison town of Kilinochchi came under attack. At least four media workers were wounded in that incident, which drew world-wide condemnation.

“Following the attack on our newspaper delivery office in Kilinochchi on April 3, we made a written request to Inspector General of Police (DIG) for the North, to give protection to our main office, but the DIG is yet to respond,” he said, hinting that the Saturday arson attack could have been avoided had the DIG responded positively.

The attacks targeting the Uthayan newspaper have come at a time when the ruling coalition of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is mulling to hold the provincial election for the Northern Province.

The Uthayan newspaper prides itself on reporting matters that are usually shunned by other news organisations elsewhere in the country. It is the only Tamil newspaper which has not ceased publication in the war-ravaged northern Jaffna peninsula despite a three-decade long civil war.

'President is accountable'

Commenting on the incident, proprietor of Uthayan, E. Saravanabavan said that the newspaper in the recent past “has been extensively covering the rampant land grab by the military and other state authorities in the North”.

“We even published photographs of this week’s public demonstration against the ongoing land grab in Mullaitivu. This could be one of the reasons for the attack, apart from the talks of provincial council elections. The President is responsible for the security of the people and their properties. Therefore, he and his representative in the north, Maj.Gen. Hathrusinghe (Security Forces Commander of the North) should be held accountable for the attack,” parliamentarian Saravanabavan told the JDS via phone. 

The tabloid newspaper has come under attack several times in the previous years by pro-government paramilitary and other government forces. Several journalists and other staff had been killed during these attacks, but the perpetrators still remain at large with no attempt being made to bring them before justice.

In barely two weeks, the Newspaper will be commemorating the seventh anniversary of the attack on its office on May 3, 2006. At least two media workers were killed and six more wounded in this attack on the Press Freedom Day. 

'We will not bow down'

“We will not bow down to these attacks. We will come strong and it is our bounden duty to stand for our people. I am going to seek international protection for our newspaper because, we cannot rely on the Colombo government for our protection anymore,” he said, highlighting the fact that no one has been brought to book to-date with regard to the series of attack on the newspaper. 

Sri Lanka holds one of the worst records in the world for press freedom and journalists’ safety. According to the detailed information gathered by the JDS, the government and its paramilitaries stand accused of killing at least 39 journalists and media workers since May 2004.

© JDS

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