Sri Lankan sleuths grill Jaffna-based newspaper editor

In yet another attempt to further silence the media and curtail the already worsened media freedom in the country, a special team of sleuths attached to Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Wednesday (18) has grilled the editor of the Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper for publishing a news item about the country’s army chief.

When contacted, Jaffna newspaper editor Premananth Thevanayagam confirmed to the JDS that a CID team flying from the capital city of Colombo has summoned him to the CID head office in the northern Jaffna town and interrogated him for nearly four hours on the news item on the Army Commander published on July 11.

“They summoned me to the CID office here in Jaffna and questioned me repeatedly on the news item on Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya. They desperately wanted to know the source of the story and the motives of publishing such stories,” Uthayan editor Premananth said.

“They asked the same questions from several angles, but I firmly told them that we were just practising our profession as journalists and keeping the people informed in the best possible ways on a daily basis,” the 35-year old Tamil newspaper editor told the JDS.

Sri Lanka’s police spokesman Ajith Rohana has also confirmed that a special team of the CID from Colombo had recorded a statement from the Uthayan editor regarding a news story published in the newspaper a few days ago.

Intimidations before provincial council elections

According to media rights activists and pundits, the Sri Lankan media in general and the Jaffna-based newspaper in particular comes under intense pressure, intimidation and attack every time when there are elections around the corner.

Premananth has been questioned for four hours at a time when the Tamil parties were busy filing nominations for the upcoming provincial council elections, scheduled to be held for the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces on September 8.

The CID grilling of editor Premananth has come barely a year after his predecessor Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan (59) was brutally attacked and seriously wounded by unknown armed men. No body has been brought to book to-date and Kuhanathan had to flee the country obviously due to security concerns.

On June 29, the team of officers attached to CID and Colombo Crime Division (CCD) raided the office of the pro-opposition Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News web sites in Colombo raising local and international concerns. During the raid nine journalists and media workers were arrested and were charged with “defaming president and his royal glory”. They were later released on bail after being produced before the Colombo Magistrates Court.

Repeated attacks on Uthayan

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

The tabloid newspaper which celebrated its silver jubilee in February last year 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.

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.

Photo courtesy: Kannan Arunasalam | Moving Images



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). 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.