By Krista Mahr–
The offices of a Tamil newspaper in northern Sri Lanka were attacked on Saturday morning, the latest in a string of outrages on the press and a fresh reminder of how the war’s end nearly four years ago did not bring peace for all in this South Asian nation. In what has been reported as the second strike on the paper’s operations in two weeks, senior staff of Uthayan, a Tamil paper that has been critical of the government and the nation’s powerful military, told reporters that three armed men broke into the paper’s headquarters in the northern city of Jaffna, setting fire to the day’s edition and to its printing presses.
No employees were hurt in the attack, but they have been in the past. In 2011, an editor and reporter were attacked, and in 2006, gunmen stormed the paper’s offices, killing two members of staff. Eswarapatham Saravanapavan, Uthayan’s owner and a parliamentarian for the Tamil National Alliance party, told the U.K.’s Independent newspaper that he believed the attack on Saturday may have been linked to the military, which a military spokesman has denied.
The tensions revealed in the incident are becoming depressingly familiar. The clouds have been darkening over this picturesque island nation in recent years as euphoria over the end of its long-running civil war has ebbed. Since its 2009 defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an insurgency group that for decades fought for an independent homeland for the nation’s ethnic Tamils, the Sri Lankan government has not responded to increasingly vocal demands from the international community for a investigation into alleged war crimes committed in the final stages of the conflict. In March, 25 countries, including India, passed a U.S.-sponsored U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling for a probe into those allegations and expressing concern at ongoing reports of human-rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture. Colombo called the measure a threat to Sri Lanka’s domestic reconciliation efforts; Minister of Media and Information and government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corp. that “the U.S. government is trying to undermine Sri Lanka’s endeavor to consolidate peace and harmony.”
That recalcitrance — paired with an oversize army without a war to fight and the enduring distrust of some sectors in the Tamil community — has prevented a more meaningful peace from taking hold. “It was the end of a war, but not the end of conflict,” says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Colombo-based research group. “There are flagrant violations of rule of law and a culture of impunity that envelop this country.”
One of the most obvious symptoms of that culture has been the near relentless siege on the nation’s press. Sri Lanka ranks 162 of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index. Tamil news outlets, particularly those with historic links to the separatist movement, have long been regular targets, but members of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority have not been spared either. In 2009, months before government forces defeated the LTTE, Sunday Leader editor and TIME contributor Lasantha Wickrematunge, an outspoken critic of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was assassinated by two gunmen on the way to his office, prompting an exodus of independent-minded journalists. Wickrematunge had predicted his own demise. In a chilling posthumous editorial published days after he was murdered, he wrote: “When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.”
Recently, rights groups staged a campaign to stop the United Arab Emirates from deporting a well-known Tamil television reporter back to Sri Lanka, where they feared she would be tortured. Their concerns are well founded. Reports of military and police torture and sexual violence against Tamils with alleged separatist ties were not uncommon during the 26-year civil war. Returning Tamils now appear to be facing the same abuses. A Human Rights Watch report on alleged rapes that took place between 2006 and ’12 found that sexual violence continues to be used by security forces against male and female prisoners with suspected links to the insurgency. Because the agency was unable to speak to those currently in detention in Sri Lanka, or conduct open research in the country, it believes that the 75 cases it has documented represent “a fraction” of total custodial rape cases.
To escape this climate of fear, it appears that an increasing number of Tamils are fleeing Sri Lanka, boarding barely seaworthy vessels, bound for an uncertain future as asylum seekers. This is despite the government’s official effort to reconstruct the war-torn north of the country. “You have a significant number of people leaving postwar, at a point at which the government is assuring that economic development is prioritized and reconciliation is being effected in earnest,” says the CPA’s Saravanamuttu. The fact that so many people are choosing to go “seems to suggest people in the north don’t feel that way. They are voting with their feet, so to speak, and they are paying fairly large sums of money and risking life and limb to do it.” Saravanamuttu says that official numbers of the number of people leaving are unavailable, but to give just one example, over 6,000 Tamils arrived in Australia in 2012, some 30 times higher than the 2011 figure.
Uthayan, the newspaper whose offices were attacked, had been reporting on the encroachment of the military into local businesses in the north, the paper’s owner has said. The ratio of military to civilians is exponentially higher in the region compared with the rest of the country, and now that they are not required to mop up armed insurgents, soldiers have taken on nonmilitary roles, such as farming and running small shops that compete against Tamil businesses. While new roads have been built and internationally funded efforts are under way to help the region get back to some version of its prewar self, many say that the military’s overwhelming presence stands in the way of a return to anything resembling normalcy. Saravanamuttu recalls what one man from Jaffna told him after the war: “Things might look better, but they feel a lot worse.”
Safa / April 15, 2013
It is not only the Tamils but even Sinhalese are leaving the shores of this so called wonder of asia. The so called economic miracle is only for the ruling family and their sycophants. For others its pure misery with no end in sight. As the country gets more and more indebted due to the inebriated rajapakse development plans the ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet.
People point to the carpeted roads, cafes and jogging tracks but these are not for the ordinary folks. They have to survive on CTB, CGR and hard labour to keep their home fires burning. No international schools for them and in some cases no schools at all. Airports and Air taxis galores for people who cant afford bus fare.
Dinuk / April 16, 2013
Sri Lankans from all walks of life are fleeing the country due to lack of economic opportunity and fear if one is a minority. Economic prosperity is strictly reserved for the Rajapakse dictatorship and its cronies.
The minorities can go to hell- their property and lands have been grabbed and stolen by Rajapakse Brothers and sons, the military and the Buddhist monks who claim all sorts of “scared areas”. Today Muslims are the target of the envious and jealous Sinhala mob.
July 1983 and previous anti-Tamil riots were about destroying the ECONOMIC backbone of the Tamils, driving out Tamil professionals and turning them out of Lanka, today the same strategy of attack on minority businesses and professional is directed against the Muslim. Rajapakse thrives on the Sinhala mob’s envy and jealousy.
J muththa / April 15, 2013
Happy to note the way is being paved for the economic migrants for their place in the sun.
What about those Tamils who have no intention to Flee ? Traitors for not even attempting.
All such writtings can be brought to an end and the Tamil Nadu rhetoric stop if the the West invite the balance 4% of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
With all that on offer, I am certain some Tamils will never leave sri Lanka.
In that scenario what are these writers going to call them Fools or the very journalist or writers have made a fool of themselves??
Then its time for an open invitation.
manisekaran / April 16, 2013
Why should Tamil leave their own land? People like you are root cause that world to take note of and teach lesson for racist attitude.
punchinilame / April 15, 2013
A worthy reminder to your article –
“19 Journalists Killed in Sri Lanka/ Source: Tamil H.R. ( Paris)
May 18 or 19, 2009 in Mullivaikkal, Sri Lanka
Puniyamoorthy Sathiyamoorthy, freelance
February 12, 2009, in Mullaitheevu district, Sri Lanka
Lasantha Wickramatunga, The Sunday Leader
January 8, 2009, in an area outside Colombo, Sri Lanka
Rashmi Mohamed, Sirasa TV
October 6, 2008, in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Paranirupasingham Devakumar, News 1st
May 28, 2008, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Suresh Linbiyo, Voice of Tigers
November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
T. Tharmalingam, Voice of Tigers
November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
Isaivizhi Chempiyan, Voice of Tigers
November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
Selvarajah Rajeewarnam, Uthayan
April 29, 2007, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Subash Chandraboas, Nilam
April 16, 2007, in an area near Vavuniya, Sri Lanka
Subramaniyam Sugitharajah, Sudar Oli
January 24, 2006, in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Relangi Selvarajah, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corp.
August 12, 2005, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Dharmeratnam Sivaram, TamilNet and Daily Mirror
April 29, 2005, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Lanka Jayasundara, Wijeya Publications
December 11, 2004, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Bala Nadarajah Iyer, Thinamurasu and Thinakaran
August 16, 2004, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Aiyathurai Nadesan, Virakesari
May 31, 2004, in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, BBC, Virakesari, Ravaya
October 19, 2000, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Anura Priyantha, Independent Television Network
December 18, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Indika Pathinivasan, Maharaja Television Network
December 18, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
6 Journalists Killed in Sri Lanka/Motive Unconfirmed
Sahadevan Nilakshan, Chaalaram
August 1, 2007, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, Namathu Eelanadu
August 20, 2006, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Sampath Lakmal, Sathdina
July 1, 2006, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Vasthian Anthony Mariyadas, Freelancer
December 31, 1999, in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka
Atputharajah Nadarajah, Thinamurusu
November 2, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Rohana Kumara, Satana
September 7, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka “
S.Thiagarajah / April 15, 2013
These things are happening because the United Nations have not taken action to carry out an International Investigation against War Crimes committed by Rajapkase and Gothapaya.It is like not punishing a person who carried out a murder.So that person continues to murder others.If Hon.President Sadam Hussain of Iraq can be sentenced to death for war crimes,How can US spare the Sri lankan President.There was no undermine in Iraq when Sadam Hussain was hanged.If UN put Rajapkse in the docks all the truth will come out.That is why Sri lankan Govt. is saying”US Govt. is undermining the Sri lanka,s efforts to rebuild and reconcile.” It is a master trick of Sri lanka to escape punishment.
justice / April 16, 2013
The army has investigated itself and has declared that Zero Civilian Casualties due to action of the armed forces,is a fact!!!!
This war more than 26 years old will go into history books as the very first war with zero civilian casualties due to action against a militant group by a nation’s armed forces – that is,if historians are mutts.
The claim is made in spite of the 25,000 bombing missions by the air force,tens of thousands of shells fired by artillery & navy, and millions of bullets fired by the army.
All nations are expected to swallow this canard.
Ramanan / April 20, 2013
“The claim is made in spite of the 25,000 bombing missions by the air force,tens of thousands of shells fired by artillery & navy, and millions of bullets fired by the army.”
They are the best army in the world and therefore should not fear military action if their President is threatened by USA or India.
“All nations are expected to swallow this canard”
All the gullible nations you mean. The western nations and india that foolishly allow their people to elect their leaders, are untrustworthy and liable to get influenced by the tamil tiger diaspora. Nations like China and Russia which have strong and highly intelligent leaders, who have a good state security apparatus to look after their people instead of allowing them to vote, are the trustworthy ones and who’s advice and support SL should follow. Such is the way to everlasting prosperity as shown by the dear leader in North Korea and his people.
OutRider / April 16, 2013
Journalists. What Journalists?
Krista, you should know the so called journalists in Sri Lanka are a totally different kettle of fish from those you are familiar with. Sri Lanka is a country based strictly on meritocracy. All jobs are assigned solely on the basis of education, training and certification except for four minor jobs, namely: bus conductor, witch doctor, politician and journalist. Anybody can enter these professions irrespective of their credentials, skills, mental aptitude, previous experience or character references. In fact having any of those attributes may actually jeopardize one’s chances of entering these much coveted professions in Sri Lanka. All what you need is unbridled ambition, a pushy personality and a lack of conscience.
So journalists write as they please, not constrained or guided by any ethical or professional standards. And their readers who share the same moral and cultural milieu give their feedback in kind.
Ramanan / April 20, 2013
“All jobs are assigned solely on the basis of education, training and certification except for four minor jobs, namely: bus conductor, witch doctor, politician and journalist.”
Indeed and I would go further to say that the most demanding and intellectually challenging job in Sri Lanka is that of Defence Secretary. Although on the surface it seems easy to be the head of the only army in the world to eradicate terrorism with zero casualties and no rapes, the great strain placed on having to maintain order and goodwill amongst the different communities on the island is such that only the most accomplished mind can achieve it. Thankfully we are lucky in this regard to have Gotabhaya at the helm including his thorough knowledge of the Buddha’s dharma which allows him to provide wise counsel to the enlightened monks of the Bodu Sena. The way he navigated the difficulties of managing the outspoken Lasantha Wickrematunge and other journalists including Frederica Jansz should be studied by all prospective defence ministers (including those in the West who foolishly allow their media to run unregulated from the armed services thus letting them run amok with their clear lack of conscience). Indeed if the former friend of the SL govt, Liam Fox had taken on board Gota’s advice then he too would still be in a job instead of having to resign on unfounded claims such as giving military clearance to a lobbyist friend of his without the knowledge of the UK govt. In such way the UK is forced to suffer in the doldrums whilst Sri Lanka presses onwards to bigger and better things led by their enlightened president and his brothers, cousins, sons, nieces, nephews and pets.
j.muthu / April 16, 2013
OutRider / April 17, 2013
kana bona minihage hitha hondai.
Eating drinking man heart is good.
Anam / April 16, 2013
Now Muslims and Christian will flee then no brain left Sri Lanka will collapse
Senguttuvan / April 16, 2013
Attacks on the Uthayan in the North now are similar to the many attacks on the Sunday Leader in the South. The common denominator is perpetrators on both come from the same source. These are also indications of a deep malaise that has infected the very core of our
alrady weak governance- law and order structure. Chances are, sadly, it will grow worse rather than the other way about. Is the path of Uganda and Zimbabwe for us now.
Pol Pot / April 16, 2013
Re the Explosions at the Boston Marathon; will Refugees from the USA start leaving the sinking ship soon?
mavan / April 17, 2013
people leave the country for better economic opportunities. Thats inevitable. Different people interpret this for their own benefits. Those who go to other countries by boat are unskilled people. Of course they might think other countries have better perk for them. This is not because of any form of harassment.
NAK / April 17, 2013
What is unbelievable is,they are even running away from Tamil Nadu!!