Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Muzzling the Media

Reporting from Vanni, Part II

by K. Mylvaganam

Rajapaksha seems to beat all the past records of his predecessors. Since he was elected on 17.11.2005 as President numerous people in the mass media have been killed. Press freedom, reporters, editors, publishers and even minor employees are targeted...

The killing and abduction of media personnel and the damaging of media offices and their equipment have become a day-to-day affair in Sri Lanka. Muzzling the media is not a new phenomenon in this country. Even during the period of Srimavo Bandaranaiyake, J.R.Jeyawardene, Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaratunge, the clamping of the media has taken place.

Even the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) adopted the same tactics. Freedom of the press was non-existent. All newspapers were subject to scrutiny by a government authority before the papers were put on sale. Most of the papers came out with blank pages marked “Censured.”   

Several presses were closed and kept sealed for a long periods.  

The offices of Murasoli and that of Eelamurasu were blasted by using high explosives by the IPKF in 1987. Similarly the television centre Nitharsanam and the radio station Pulikalin Kural were mercilessly bombed, totally damaging very valuable equipment. These governments, Sri Lanka and India, were fully aware of the effect the media would have on the masses. It was during the IPKF period that the regional representative for Eelamurasu in Chunnakam, Mr. Navaratnam, was shot and killed by members of the EPRLF that was collaborating with both the Sri Lankan government and the IPKF. During the same period the reporter for a Colombo-based daily (The Island), Mr. Mahalingam, was gunned down. Another reporter for Eelanadu, Mr. Manicam, escaped several attempts on his life. Mr. Satchithanantham from Madduvil, publisher of the paper called “Thamilina Viduthalai” was killed by the same paramilitary group in 1989.

Premadasa Era  

It was during this era that a proliferation of thugs, innumerable murders and a sharp increase in gagging the press were recorded. One could safely say that Premadasa terrorized the country. It was no wonder that some Sinhalese people fired crackers when his murder was announced. Editors, reporters, owners and distributors received threatening telephone calls. A very famous and highly popular person who was not only a media man, but was also an actor and a director of dramas, Mr.Richard de Zoysa was forcibly removed from his house one night, killed and his body was taken on a helicopter and dumped in the sea near Dehiwela. His mother fought a severe legal battle to bring to books the perpetrators, but nothing came out of it, even though the public knew fully well who was behind that murder. de Zoysa highlighted the human right violations and the corrupt activities which prevailed in that government through his pen and his dramas. A relative of Premadasa called Cecil Vaithiyaratne, who was a commander in the army, sent a wreath and a message of condolence to the present day columnist in the Sunday Times, Mr. Iqbal Athas as a warning on his life.  

Chandrka Bandaranaiyake Era  

Chandrka Bandaranaiyake was no second to her predecessors. She also enforced severe restrictions on the press. One of the - if not the only - Sinhala press, that gives coverage to the problems faced by the Tamils is “Ravaya.” Victor Ivan is its chief editor. Chandrika made life hell for him. And “Yukthiya,” another Sinhala paper run by Sunantha Desa Priyasena were subjected to untold hardship by her government. Rohankumara, the editor of “Sattana,” another Sinhala paper, was murdered in cold blood.  

Out of the Tamil dailies “Uthayan” is the worst hit. In 1990 one employee was killed when its office was subjected to aerial bombing. In 1996 Uthayan highlighted the Chemmani killings and hand grenades were thrown at its office.

It was during Chandrika's period that Mamanithar Kumar Ponnambalam was murdered in broad daylight for exposing the misdeeds of her government both nationally and internationally. Freedom of speech was taboo in her vocabulary.

When the Unceasing Waves III operation was conducted and Elephant Pass was taken over by the Tigers, Chandrika declared a state of emergency and muzzled many papers, particularly Uthayan (Tamil), The Sunday Leader (English) and Irithaperamuna (Sinhala). The editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, and his wife were pulled out of their car one night and both were beaten up. Lasantha is harassed even today for his bold and forthright reports.  

It was during Chandrika's period that Mylvaganam Nirmalarajan was killed. On 19.10.2000 when armed gunmen walked into his house, he tried to run away but they chased him and shot him down. He reported to Tamil, Sinhala media and also to the B.B.C.

The next famous journalist who was killed was Mr. Aiyathurai Nadesan

Mr. Tharmaratnam Sivaram better known as Tharaki ,another highly respected journalist,was another victim of the state. When he walked out of a very popular restaurant in Colombo along with a Sinhalese friend of his, he was dragged into a white van and his mutilated body was found lying on the road on the following day.  

The JVP was also responsible for several such activities. When the Sakthi TV broadcast the Martyrs’ Day celebrations of 27.11.2004, the JVP elements that have infiltrated the army smashed their branch office and caused severe damage to their properties. It was the JVP who was behind the brutal attack on Mr.Jathurshan of Sudar Oli in Pettah. The JVP was responsible for the throwing of a grenade into the office of the Sudar Oli in August 2005 which killed its watchman, Mr.David Selvaratnam. This sort of atrocities is not uncommon to the JVP. During their reign of terror in 1988 – 1989 they killed the lady announcer from Rupavahini, Ms. Shakriya Gomes and one Mr. Davis Guruge. Now they have diverted their attention on the Tamil media personnel.  

The distributor of Eelanatham from Kalmunai, Mr. Kannamuthu Arasakumar, was killed on 29.07.2005 by the Karuna group. A similar distributor, Mr. Krishnapillai Joekumar, was also murdered by the same group on 30.08.2005. There is a total ban imposed on the distribution and sale of certain Tamil newspapers.    

Mahinda Era  

Rajapasha seems to beat all the past records of his predecessors. Since he was elected on 17.11.2005 as President numerous people in the mass media have been killed. Press freedom, reporters, editors, publishers and even minor employees are targeted – a striking example is the watcher at the Uthayan office in Jaffna being shot and killed. The weekly paper Sudar Oli gave prominence for the killing of the five students in Trincomalee and this was not palatable to the government and its armed forces. Sudar Oli employee, Mr. Subramanium Sukirtharajan, was murdered in the early hours one morning shortly thereafter. Mr. Krishnapillai Navaratnam, who was involved in the distribution of the Tamil daily Thinakural, was shot and killed on 23.12.2005. Following these killings, Mr. George Sahayathas (Marketing Manager) and Mr. Rasaratnam Rajitkumar from the distribution section of the Uthayan daily were killed. A third person was severely injured. This happened on 02.05.2006. Mr. Mariathas Manoraj, a distributor of Metro News and Thinakural, was killed by claymore attack on 27.07.2006. He was only 22 years old. Another distributor of Uthayan, Mr. Sathasivam Baskaran was killed on15.08.2006. The manager of the daily Eelanadu Mamanithar, Mr. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, was killed by the Sri Lanka forces. He was 68 years old. He has contributed a lot of services for mankind in several fields. He was one of the leading cooperators [someone who works in the cooperative movement] of his time.  

Recently a journalist, Kumarakuruparan, was abducted by “unidentified people” in a white van in the early hours of one morning. When several protests were launched by fellow journalists in Colombo, he was released after two days. The last one to get a similar treatment was one Tharajah Thavamani working for the Maharajah’s TV network.

The question in everybody’s mind is; “Who is Next?”   The most interesting part of all these killings is that none of the perpetrators have since been caught. Isn’t this a typical example of; “to set a thief to catch the same thief?”  

This is the sort of “Freedom of the Press” and “Freedom of Expression” that exists in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.  

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