Media

'Uthayan' under military siege as Tamils mark Mullivaikkal Day

Office of the Jaffna-based Uthayan Newspaper has come under military siege from the early hours of Sunday, May 18 creasing a panic situation in the area, as the Tamil people in the war-ravaged North and the East silently commemorate the mass scale massacre of Mulliavaikkal, where several thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan military forces in their quest to defeat the Tamil Tigers militarily five years ago.

According to sources in the North, hundreds of heavily armed military personnel have rounded up the office and blocked the Kannarthiddi and Navalar roads leading to Uthayan office, using military heavy vehicles they came in. People and vehicles have been turned back, resulting in a panic situation in the area.

"We noticed the presence of a large number of military intelligence personnel in civvies in the vicinity of our office early in the morning. Some were seen carrying weapons. Since their presence appeared to be in a threatening manner, we complained to a police patrol unit came that way, but it was of no avail. They were seen trailing and taking notes of people come in and going out of our office. Barely within a couple of hours we saw a huge military presence in the area with the roads being blocked," a journalist attached to the newspaper told the JDS over the phone from the office under siege. 

When contacted, the proprietor of the Newspaper, E. Saravanabavan, who is also the Jaffna District Parliamentarian of the Tamil National Alliance said: "I went up to the soldiers and asked why they were blocking the roads leading to our office and rounding up the area, as it caused disruption to the routine function of the office. They said that the order had come from the top command and wanted me to speak to the Commander of Jaffna Security Forces, Major General Uthaya Perera while refusing to give the contact details of the local area commander".

Despite the fact that there is no media freedom in the country in general and the north in particular, the Uthayan newspaper today has bravely come out with a special supplementary "Mullivaikkal thuyar malar - May 18" with photographs, articles, interviews of the survivors and poems, in commemoration of the Mullaivaikkal massacre. It is not immediately known whether this was the reason for the prevailing tension in the area.

Sri Lanka has used its military might to ensure that the Mullivaikkal massacre, which haunts the Rajapaksa regime at every international forum including in the UN, is not observed by survivors of the war. The University of Jaffna was closed well in advance while people have been asked not even to hold routine temple poojas on this day. 

"We have the basic right to mourn and remember our people, who were massacred in tens of thousands. I have reported to the police regarding the latest development, which has created a tension in the areas. I do not know what will befall next," Parliamentarian Saravanabavan told the JDS over the phone from the office.     

The Uthayan Newspaper office itself has suffered numerous attacks thereafter, with the latest being in April 2013.  These attacks have virtually turned the Newspaper office a war museum for international media, envoys and world leaders.

Several members of the international community and the international media watchdogs have vehemently condemned and repeatedly requested the incumbent government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to end the prolonging culture of impunity and to ensure the media freedom and right to information. But the Colombo government appears to have either grossly ignored their condemnations and requests or taken them to its advantage to further stifle the media.

Sri Lanka is ranked 165th out of 179 countries in the RSF press freedom index for 2014. At least 40 media workers have been killed or abducted and made to disappear while many media institutions have been bombed and burnt, forcing many in the profession to flee the country to safety.

© JDS

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Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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