By C. A. Chandraprema –
One of the delegations of local NGOs that presented a memorandum to Navi Pillay during her visit, was the Alliance of Media Organisations made up of the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the South Asian Free Media Association – Sri Lanka Chapter, and the Media Movement for Democracy. In this memorandum, reference was made to the attacks on the Sirasa TV station, the Sunday Leader Press, the Siyatha TV station, the killing of Lasantha Wickremetunga, and the assaults on Media persons like Poddala Jayantha, Namal Perera, and other such incidents which are well known and will not be disputed by anybody. However, the memorandum presented to Pillay by the alliance of media NGOs also had the following statements which struck this writer as needing further investigation viz:
“Since 1981, 114 persons have been killed due to the exercise of freedom of expression, including journalists and media workers.”
“34 Journalists have been documented as killed between 2005 till to date…”
“Over 50 journalists, including prominent and well known press freedom activists, have gone into exile since 2009.”
We as journalists know that D.Sivaram, Lasantha Wickremetunga and Sampath de Silva, a freelancer attached to the Lakbima, were killed between 2004 and now, but who were all the others mentioned by the media NGOs? Then we know that Uvindu Kurukulasuriya (Colombo Telegraph) , Sandaruwan Senadhira (Lanka e News) and media activist Sunanda Deshapriya have gone into self exile but who are all the others? The numbers mentioned are large – 114 killed since 1981, 34 since 2005 alone and no less than 50 in self exile! Last week, this writer phoned media activist Sunil Jayasekera of the FMM and asked for the lists of media personnel who had been killed and had gone into self exile. A book written by Seetha Ranjanee a media activist, about the 114 media persons killed since 1981 was given to me.
Dharmasiri Lankapeli of the Media Movement for Democracy sent me a list of media persons killed from 2004 to date. The representations made by the media NGOs to Pillay was based on this document. This list had 44, not 34 names and it started from 2004 onwards, whereas the present government came into power only in November 2005. However, what is important is the manner in which the numbers of ‘media personnel’ killed have been arrived at. Of the 44 supposed ‘media persons’ killed, no less than 22 were LTTE cadres! Among the regional newspapers in the North and East, the Uthayan, Valampuri, Tinakural, Dinamurusu, and the Colombo based Virakesari and Sudaroli are well known. The Dinamurusu is the paper of the EPDP. The other papers may have been described as being Tamil nationalist or pro-LTTE, but they were not owned by the LTTE. The LTTE had its own newspapers among which were the Elanatham based in Kilinochchi and the Eelamurusu. Another newspaper, Namathu Elanadu was started in 2002 in Jaffna by a former TULF and TNA MP Sinnatamby Sivamaharajah after the peace accord was signed.
On October 1, 2002, when the Namathu Elanadu was launched as a daily newspaper in Jaffna, the LTTE website Tamilnet had an effusive article which described how the Eelamurusu newspaper was targeted by the IPKF when they began operations against the LTTE in 1987, and how the Eelanatham was not allowed to function in Jaffna after the army took over the peninsula in 1995. Tamilnet said that the new newspaper Namathu Elanadu would be the Tamil Homeland’s ‘vanguard daily’. What is clear is that the Namathu Elanadu was started to take advantage of the political space opened to the LTTE in the government controlled Jaffna peninsula by the 2002 ceasefire agreement where LTTE cadres were allowed into the peninsula for political work.
LTTE cadres as ‘media persons’
The Eelamurusu, Eelanatham, and Namathu Eelanadu were LTTE publications and run by LTTE activists or cadres and it is misleading to lump these newspapers with the Uthayan, Tinakuraal and other such newspapers. But the media NGOs have classified not only these LTTE newspapers, but even the Voice of Tigers as a media organization! Thus, 22 of the 44 ‘media persons’ killed between 2004 and 2009 were terrorists directly involved with the LTTE. The list of ‘kotiyas’ includes my dear friend D.Sivaram, the editor of the LTTE website Tamilnet. LTTE activists carrying out propaganda for a terrorist organization cannot be considered media persons by any stretch of the imagination.
If there is anything objectionable in the manner in which they met with their deaths, they should be classified as extrajudicial killings of terrorist suspects and taken up separately. Even though Sivaram was the editor of Tamilnet which was as widely read as any local newspaper, and Siva himself was a journalist of no mean talent, the Editors’ Guild never thought of offering him membership for obvious reasons. The names of the LTTE propaganda cadres and functionaries falsely classified as ‘media personnel’by the media NGOs is as follows.
Kannamuttu Arsakumar – newspaper delivery agent Batticaloa Edition of Eelanatham killed 29 June 2005
Yogakumar Krishnapillai – killed 30 September 2005 a distributor of the Batticaloa edition of Eelanatham.
Chandrabose Suthakar – killed 16 April 2007 in Vavuniya, A regular contributor Eelanatham, Eelanadu, and Veerakesari.
Selvarasah Rajeevarman – killed 29 April 2007 in Jaffna trainee staff reporter for Uthayan was formerly attached to Namathu Eelanadu.
Isaivizhi Chempian (Subhajini) – killed 27 November 2007 in Kilinochchi radio presenter in Voice of Tigers’. Killed when the radio station came under attack by Sri Lankan Air Force.
Suresh Limbiyo – 27 November 2007 in Kilinochchi, technical officer of Voice of Tigers Killed in the same air force attack.
T.Tharmalingam – killed 27 November 2007 in Kilinochchi another Voice of Tigers functionary.
Rasiya Jeynthira – killed October 2008 (date unverifiable) former sub editor of Eelanatham
Punniyamurthy Sathyamurthy – 12 February 2009 in Mullaithivu Regular contributor to Eelanatham, Vellynatham, (The weekend issue of Eelanatham) and Eelamurasu.
Sasi Mathan – 05 March 2009 in Mullaithivu distributor for Eelanatham killed in Iranaipalai.
Mahalingam Maheswaran – 13 March 2009 in Mullaithivu, distributor of Eelanatham in the Mullaithivu District, killed in Pokkanai.
Anton – March 2009 in Mullaithivu (date unverifiable) distributor of the Eelanatham killed in Iranaipalai.
Rajkumar Densy – 09 April 2009 in Mullaithivu computer graphic designer of Eelanatham. Killed along with her husband in Pokkanai.
Jeyaraja Susithara (Suganthan) – 25 April 2009 in Mullaithivu printing machine operator of Eelanatham.
Mariyappu Anthoneykumar – 14 May 2009 in Mullaithivu news reporter for Eelanatham killed in Mullivaikkal.
Thuraisingham Tharshan – 14th May 2009 in Mullaithivu computer graphic designer at Eelanatham killed in Mullivaikkal.
Isai Priya (Shoba) – 18 May 2009 in Mullaithivu presenter for LTTE television station.
Thirukulasingham Thavabalan – May 2009 (date unverifiable) in Mullaithivu head of LTTE radio station.
Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah – 20 August 2006 in Jaffna Managing Director of Namathu Eelanadu shot dead in his residence.
S. Raveendran – 12 February 2007 in Jaffna printing machine operator at Namathu Eelanadu.
Dharmaratnam Sivaram (Taraki) – 28 April 2005 in Colombo. Editor of Tamil Net.
All the above were directly involved in the LTTE and they cannot be considered journalists or media persons in the ordinary sense of that term. They were enemy combatants fulfilling a propaganda function. The fact that some of the above may have been killed extra-judicially by government hit men, does not turn them into journalists. The extrajudicial killing of terrorist suspects has to be taken up elsewhere and not in media representations. One has to draw the line somewhere. If the names of these LTTE cadres and functionaries is removed from the list of media persons killed since 2004, it goes down by 50%! One can see how Sri Lanka has been falling behind in media freedom indices.
The endangered newspaper porters
When one talks of media freedom, it usually means the extent of freedom allowed to the media by the government. And when one refers to media persons killed, this usually means media persons killed by the government in an effort to suppress media freedom. At times, lists of media persons killed by non-state actors such as terrorist groups are also compiled to highlight violations committed by such groups. But the Sri Lankan media NGOs have lumped the media persons killed by the terrorist groups along with killings like that of Richard de Zoysa, and Lasantha Wickremetunga where the government or a section of it could be implicated. The following are the media persons killed by the LTTE included in the list of murdered media persons falsely conveying the impression that the government was responsible for these as well.
Kandasamy Aiyer Balanadarajah – 16 August 2004 in Colombo. Media Secretary of Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), and worked for the EPDP paper Thinamurasu.
Relangi Selvarajah – 12 August 2005 in Colombo. A Radio and Television presenter who worked for state run media institutions. She produced a radio program called Ithaya Veenai critical of the LTTE.
L. M. Faleel – 02 December 2005 in Batticaloa he was not a media person at all but the Divisional Secretary of the Muslim enclave of Kattankudy, Batticaloa.
Mariadasan Manojanraj – 27 July 2006 in Jaffna distributor of Tamil newspapers Yarl Thinakural and Veerakesari. Killed in an LTTE claymore explosion.
W.Gunasinghe – 05 December 2007 killed in the Kebithigollewa claymore mine attack. provincial correspondent to the Divaina.
Paranirupesingham Devakumar – 28 May 2008 in Jaffna Jaffna correspondent of Sakthi TV and the head of its provincial station. Hacked to death after being abducted by the LTTE while on his way home from work. (He was considered pro-government)
Rasmi Mohamad – 06 October 2008 provincial correspondent for Sirasa TV, killed in the LTTE suicide bomb attack that killed Major Gen Janaka Perera.
That takes another seven names out of the list of media persons supposedly killed by the government. Of the 44 names compiled by the media NGOs, only 15 can be even suspected as instances when the government or elements connected to the government tried to suppress media freedom through murder. Viz the following.
Aiyathurai Nadesan – 31 May 2004 in Batticaloa columnist for Veerakesari. Karuna group suspected.
Lanka Jayasundera – 11 December 2004 in Colombo. photo journalist Wijeya Newspapers. killed in hand bomb attack by Sinhala extremists on musical concert in Colombo on Ven Gangodawila Soma thero’s death anniversary.
David Selvaratnam – 29 August 2005 in Colombo security officer attached to Sudar Oli” killed when two grenades were thrown into the newspaper office.
K. Navaratnam – 22 December 2005 in Jaffna Thinakuraal distributor in Jaffna.
Subramaniam Sugirtharajan – 24 January 2006 in Trincomalee correspondent for Sudaroli newspaper. exposed the killing of five students in Trincomalee on the 02 of January 2006
S.T.Gananathan – 01 February 2006 in Jaffna supposedly the patron of the Tamil Information Centre
Bastian George Sagayathas – 03 May 2006 in Jaffna Circulation Manager of Uthayan.
Rajaratnam Ranjith Kumar – 03 May 2006 Circulation Supervisor at Uthayan
Sampath Lakmal de Silva- 02 July 2006 in Colombo freelance defence correspondent for Lakbima.
Sathasivam Baskaran – 15 August 2006 in Jaffna delivery driver attached to Uthayan killed near Atchchuveli , Jaffna.
Subramaniam Ramachandran – 15 February 2007 in Jaffna Vadamaradchi correspondent for ‘Yarl Thinakural’ and Valampuri abducted in Vadamaradchi.
Sahadevan Nilakshan – 01 August 2007 Editor of a student magazine published by Jaffna District Student Federation.
Anthonypillai Sherin Siththiranja – 05 November 2007 in Jaffna newspaper delivery agent Yarl Thinakkural’. Missing.
Vadivelu Nirmalaraj – 17 November 2007 in Jaffna proof reader for Uthayan – Missing.
Lasantha Wickramatunge – 09 January 2009 in Colombo Editor of The Sunday Leader.
Of course even 15 instances of the killing of media persons, does constitute an attack on media freedom, but 15 would place us much more favourably on a media freedom index than 44. This list also shows that Sri Lanka is probably unique in the world in that it is much more dangerous to be a circulation manager or a newspaper porter than it is to be a newspaper editor or a journalist! This is of course not to say that production employees killed in an attempt to suppress a newspaper should not be included among media persons killed. But for a journalist, it’s a bit disconcerting to see Lasantha Wickremetunga lumped together with newspaper porters and the like. How can one even be certain that these newspaper distributors were killed for anything to do with the newspaper?
The ‘Editor’ of Wedi Handa
The Alliance of Media NGOs in its memorandum to Navi Pillay also said that 114 ‘media persons’ had been killed since 1981. This is largely based on a compilation done by media activist Seetha Ranjanee on behalf of the Free Media Movement. Here too large numbers of terrorists have been freely included among ‘media persons’. Two that caught this writer’s fancy was the inclusion of Sathasivam Sivashanmugamurthy alias Sundaram, as the Editor of Puthiya Pathei – A newspaper editor no less! Sundaram was a daring terrorist largely responsible for making PLOTE the number one Tamil terrorist movement Sri Lanka in 1981. He was killed in 1982 by Prabahakaran’s hit man Charles Anthony in what was the first internecine killing among Tamil terrorist movements. Even more funnily, on page 110 of her compilation Seetha Ranjanee added the name of Upali Gamage the ‘Editor’ of Wedi Handa among media persons killed. The Wedi Handa was the newsletter of the dreaded JVP death squads in the late 1980s! By what stretch of the imagination does one describe such terrorists as newspaper Editors?
Another problem is the inclusion of non media persons in the list of 114 media persons killed. Even political leaders like Vijaya Kumaratunga and left wing political activists like Nandana Marasinghe, and T.B. Wijesuriya have been classified as media persons. Furthermore, in this list of 114 persons, no less than 39 have killed by the LTTE. The JVP has killed 24, Five were killed by the IPKF, two by EROS, two by the EPDP, one by PLOTE and another by suspected Muslim extremists. Only 33 of the 114 killings can be suspected to be government hit jobs. As we said earlier, many of the 114 are not media persons at all. Only 66 of the 114 can be deemed to have anything to do with the media even if one includes newspaper porters as media persons. Of the 66 actual media related persons in this compilation, once again it is the LTTE that has killed the largest number of persons with 24 to their credit. The JVP killed 6, the IPKF 4, EPDP 2 and PLOTE 1. The successive governments or sections of governments can be even remotely connected to only 20 of these 66 killings including the high profile cases like those of Lasantha Wickremetunga, D.Sivaram and Richard de Zoysa.
According to Seetha Ranjanee’s compilation, four media owners had also been killed. But of these, Kandaiah Kandaswamy the owner of Saturday Review was killed by EROS. M.Amirthalingam the owner of Murasoli was killed by the LTTE. S.T.Gananathan the owner of the ‘Tamil News and Information Centre’ about which nobody seems to know anything, could have been killed by anybody since he was a nobody. It is only the killing of S.Sivamaharajah the founder of Namathu Elanadu the LTTE newspaper in Jaffna, which can be credited to the government’s account. Despite this, the memorandum submitted to Navi Pillay by the media NGOs has been written in such a manner as to convey the impression that the present government and the previous governments are responsible for all the 114 killings mentioned in the compilation.
This talk of the suppression of the media has been arrived at by inflating the figures with people who were killed by terrorists and by including persons not related to the media. Could the media NGO provide us with a list of the 50 plus ‘media persons’ who are supposed to be in exile. Only a handful of these exiled ‘media persons’ would have anything to do with the media. The TV station most critical of the government is Sirasa TV. Their facilities were attacked on at least two occasions. Yet not a single employee of Sirasa TV has fled overseas. Until recently the Sunday Leader was deemed to be anti-government, but only the former features editor of Irudina its Sinhala sister paper had fled overseas. Even Frederica Janz went overseas only after she ceased to be the editor. So who are these 50 plus ‘journalists’ in exile?
Clearly the Editor’s guild will have to step in and lay down some guidelines as to who can and cannot be considered a media person and some control will have to established over the kind of memoranda being submitted by purported media organisations to bodies like the UN.
What Pillay refused to acknowledge
External Affairs minister G.L.Peiris when he was in London last week to deliver the keynote address at the Cambridge University symposium on economic crime, met the press in London at the Sri Lankan High Commission. Addressing the mainly British and Indian media persons present, Peiris spoke of the recent visit by the UN Human Rights Commissioner to Sri Lanka and stressed that Pillay had been far from unbiased. Peiris explained that he was disappointed that Pillay had not made any use of a recent report of a survey conducted by the UN High Commission for Refugees in arriving at her conclusions about the ground situation in the north.
This UNHCR report was titled “A Protection Assessment of Sri Lankan Internally Displaced Persons, who have Returned, Relocated or are Locally Integrating”. It contained the findings of a survey carried out by the UNHCR from November 2012 to March 2013 in the Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, and Trincomalee districts. A total of 917 households as a representative sample of over 138,651 households (463,924 individuals) had participated in the survey. Some of the findings of this report make for interesting reading. Take for example the following questions and the responses received:
* How safe does your family feel compared to when you first arrived here? Response: Only 3% of Jaffna and Vanuniya district residents and 0% of Mannar residents felt less safe, Those feeling unsafe were higher in Killinochchi with 18% and in Mullaitivu 15%. But as an average, only 8% of residents in all districts felt less safe.
* Does anyone restrict or register your movement in and out of your village? Response: Only 1% of respondents in Jaffna and Mannar answered in the affirmative. It was just 3% in Kilinochchi. Those answering in the affirmative were higher in the Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts with 7% and 6% respectively.
* In general, over the past week, how many meals per day did the members of the household have? Response: Over 84% had had three meals a day while 14% had had two meals, and only 2% had had one meal per day which indicates that the level of poverty had decreased.
* When it came to education 8% of the respondents were very satisfied with the schools, 79% were satisfied, 12% unsatisfied and 1% very unsatisfied.
* With regard to housing, it was found that only 13% of respondents were living in emergency shelters.
* To the question whether they intend staying where they are now, or moving elsewhere, 5% of the respondents in Jaffna and 3% in Vavuniya said they would move somewhere else whereas in all the other districts, the overwhelming response was that they would continue to stay where they are now.
* And most significantly, when each household was asked whether any immediate family member had died (due both to natural causes and otherwise) since August 2006, affirmative answers were given by 8% of the respondents in Jaffna, 12% in Kilinochchi, 10% in Mannar, 11% in Mullaitivu, 10%, in Trincomalee and 14% in Vavuniya. The average for all districts was 11%. Thus a survey carried out by a UN agency itself had disproved the wildly exaggerated figure of 40,000 civilian deaths alone in the final months of the war mentioned in Ban Ki Moon’s Advisory panel report of April 2011. One death each in 11% of 138,651 households works out to around 15,251 deaths. If one removes from this the number of those who died due to natural causes in the years since August 2006, the final number of those who died in the war will be very close to the figures that emerged in the survey called “Enumeration of Vital Events –Northern Province” that was carried out by the Dept of Census and Statistics in 2011.
This UNHCR report also observed that almost no respondents had experienced a serious security incident against a member of his family since being resettled. Furthermore it said that a positive note about the military presence is that the military is involved in settling disputes, helping people build houses and assisting in village level development activities. The report also observed a high level of confidence in civilian law enforcement among respondents. Pillay had not taken any of the findings of this UN report into consideration in making her statement on completing her Sri Lankan tour despite the fact that Prof. Peiris had personally given her a copy when he met her in Sri Lanka.
*This article appeared in The Sunday Island
Freedom Of Expression: My Submission With ARTICLE19 To UPR Of Sri Lanka By Uvindu Kurukulasuriya