Deadly attackers of Jaffna Uthayan enjoy indefinite state impunity

Eight painful years have whistle passed since heavily armed military and paramilitary operatives carried out a well-planned murderous attack on Jaffna Uthayan Newspapers, killing two media workers and wounding two more on May 02, 2006. Still, no one has been brought to book with regard to this attack, which ironically took place at a time when the journalists elsewhere in the world celebrated the World Press Freedom Day.

The newspaper's Marketing Manager Bastian George Sagayathas  - Suresh ( 36) and Circulation Supervisor S. Ranjith (25) were killed  when the masked men sprayed volley of bullets on everything at sight. S. Uthayakumar (48) and N. Thayakaran (24) were badly injured in the attack, which caused millions worth of damage to the computers and other equipment at the office.

The armed attack on the offices of the Tamil-language newspaper in Northern Sri Lanka came in the midst of three days of events organised by the Colombo government to mark UNESCO’s world press freedom day.

Addressing the grand award ceremony of the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize at the BMICH in Colombo, President Mahinda Rajapaksa condemned the attack and publicly claimed to have ordered the police chief to arrest the perpetrators within the next 48 hours.

Fake charges

Serving his political masters, the then police chief took into custody six innocent Tamil students within the next few hours and nearly succeeded in neutralising the negative publicity in the international media. Poor students were released a few days later as the police found it impossible to frame fake charges against these students, who had been arrested while returning from their tuition classes. 

Failing to arrest the true perpetrators of the newspaper office attack in the war-torn North and providing them safe heaven with full state impunity instead, have resulted in several media workers, journalists and media organisations facing the similar situation all over the island nation in the following years - such as the high-profile killing of the Editor of Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, armed attack on Maharajah Television and disappearance of journalists Pregeeth Egnaligoda, to name a few. Waylaying and attacking a freelance journalist in the North, 29-year old Sivagnanam Selvatheepan on April 14, this year was the latest in the series.

'A point of no return'

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. Whenever they get a chance to visit the North to witness the so-called post-war rehabilitation process, they make it a point to drop in at the Uthayan office and pose for selfies.

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.

Editor of the Uthayan Newspaper, M.V. Kanamylnathan told the JDS on Friday (02) on the eighth anniversary of the brutal attack on his newspaper, "the situation is much worse than what it was during the war time, and is further getting worse to a point of no return".

'An Information Hero'

Coincidently, Mr. Kanamylnathan has been recognised by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as one of its "100 Information Heroes" for this year's World Press Freedom Day. The RSF said that through their courageous work or activism, these "100 Heroes" help to promote the freedom enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It said these heroes, who constantly sacrifice their safety and sometimes their lives to their vocation, put their ideas in the service of the common good and serve as examples.

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.