Politics & Economy

November 28: Appalling attack and deafening silence

On the evening of the November 27 at 06:07 PM (local time), flames were lit in commemoration of Maaveerar Naal 2012 (Martyrs’ Day 2012). It was initiated by the Tamil students from the Jaffna University.

Pre-deployed Sri Lankan troops forcibly entered into the Ladies’ Hostel and attacked the students and damaged properties, soon after they realized that the flames were lit inside the Ladies’ Hostel of the Jaffna University. The victims called the University administration to escape from the attack and seek safety. However, following the attack tensions prevailed.

More troops and policemen were deployed to the university vicinity by the Sri Lankan defense establishment in Jaffna. The next day (November 28), the students called for a nonviolent protest in opposition to the military attack against the students. The sit-in protest which took place within the university premises revisited memories of the Satyagraha campaign led by the late S.J.V.Chelvanayagam.

Vicious cycle

Just as successive Sri Lankan governments and their hooligan mobs attacked the Gandhian styled Satyagraha campaigns of 1956 and 1961, on the 28th  of November, the Sri Lankan army and policemen unleashed their terror campaign against the university students, who were marching peacefully within university surroundings holding placards, with a considerable number of  students symbolically covering their mouths with black cloths.

The attackers injured about 20 students, damaged the vehicle of a TNA parliamentarian, and harassed and threatened a Tamil journalist trying to cover the incident.

The history of the island indicates that it was the oppression of Tamils’ democratic struggle that led the Tamil youth to take up arms to safeguard their nation’s rights, especially that of freedom.  The outcome of which was known not just to the people of the island, but also the world.  Despite this, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces’ atrocities against the Tamil people continues today, mirroring past acts of violence. This act of abuse and oppression reveals the importance of demilitarization, as situation of an open prison is prolonged in the NorthEast, particularly in the North. 

Failure of the media

International media outlets justified their failure to aptly cover the genocidal war in late-2008 to mid-2009 by blaming the Sri Lankan government’s denial to independent and international journalists to access/enter the war zone. Yet, today, with no directive war taking place, media coverage by the Colombo based English and Sinhala media of the brutal attack against the Jaffna University students has been extremely poor. While polarization of the national media continues, imbalanced reporting by international media outlets emanated once again.  Jan Jananayagam,  Director, Tamils Against Genocide [TAG] tweeted, “sickening that colombo-based european media like @afp have not learned from their failures in 2009”, highlighting that “misleading account from @afp omits to say students threw stones AFTER military attacked peaceful demo” – a vital omission leading to suggest that it was the students’ act triggered the military’s violent response.

She further tweeted BBC “who failed disgustingly in 2009, reporting from colombo repeats srilankan military lies about jaffna protests” and added that the BBC pretends 'balanced' reporting involves quoting of discredited lanka army sources w'out mentioning their previous record of mendacity”.

The BBC reportage also failed to include the students’ version of the story – a vital view of the incident, while having given attention to the Sri Lankan military’s false recount of events.

This misrepresentation by the AFP and BBC only assists the Sri Lankan government’s propaganda machine.

“Save us”

Speaking to the victimized students, a student leader said:

'This is a most degrading incident. They [the armed forces] have entered the Ladies’ Hostel. This is an indecent act. So we are protesting against this act by the Sri Lankan Army. The University Administration says they knew nothing about it. We cannot believe this because at that time there was no one around. It was only after the army came and took their positions that the officers from the administration arrived and then simply chose to watch the proceedings.
To what extent are you [the University Administration] protecting the students?  How can this happen without the administration’s knowledge? What is the use of having a Vice-Chancellor? It is better to have an ordinary soldier as a VC then… If an ordinary soldier can come within the university premises and threaten the students, what is the need for you [the VC]? I am not trying to abuse anyone. Please consider this, our VC, our administration – if the army can freely enter the university premises then what need is there for an administration?

He further said, 'Therefore to prevent these kinds of incidents happening, we can’t ask anyone, we are not in a position to ask anyone, we can only show this as a protest, to the international community. There is no one in Jaffna to listen to us, it is only the international community which must open its eyes and save us.' 

International Response

According to the available information, no prompt statements have been issued by the international community, except for that of the U.S. embassy in Colombo. While describing it as a “peaceful demonstration”, the U.S. embassy said in its statement that it was “greatly concerned about reports of attacks on students in Jaffna”. It further states its concern “about recent threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka” with the “November 28 beating of a reporter in Jaffna, harassment by Government of Sri Lanka officials of independent media outlets, and searches without warrants of journalists all..[serving]…to stifle media freedom”.

Reconciliation (?): Repeating rhetoric

The Sri Lankan government continues its malicious propaganda in support of its own so-called action plan for reconciliation, while the Tamil people continue to be oppressed in many forms within an open prison. Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Expression and other democratic rights have been completely denied to the Tamil people.

Not only on Martyrs’ Day, but even the right to commemorate their kith and kin who were killed during the genocidal warfare in May 2009 has also been  taken away from the Tamil people. Even if perceived as an enemy, war memories are to be respected, but the Sri Lankan government has engaged in a continuous act of destroying all the Martyrs cemeteries built throughout the NorthEast in memory of more than twenty thousand LTTE cadres. 

It is noteworthy at this juncture that academic sources from within the Jaffna University premises have revealed on condition of anonymity to the JDS, “The soldiers were angry that students have somehow commemorated their heroes and lit the commemoration lamp despite many threats and intimidation. Today’s attack was nothing but a violent retaliation on the students for remembering their own sisters and brothers. This simply shows that we don’t have freedom even to cry silently in the NorthEast”.

In a fundamental sense, the reconciliation comes through respect and acknowledgement and not through denial and continuing terror atrocities. Committing massacres and denying the survivors their right to remember is simply an extention of the genocidal policy of the state. Therefore, the international community should act swiftly in order to prevent any further atrocities against the Tamil people in the island, while ensuring their right to peaceful assembly and protest.

Photo courtesy: Tamil Net

© JDS

left

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.