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Media groups decry repeated targeting of Tamil newspaper

Police officers inspect burnt printing machines after an attack on the
Police officers inspect burnt printing machines after an attack on the "Uthayan" printing press in Jaffna

REUTERS/Stringer

UPDATE from Reporters Without Borders: Press freedom prize goes to Uzbek journalist and Sri Lankan daily (28 November 2013)

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins partners and affiliates in Sri Lanka in unequivocally condemning the repeated targeting of the Tamil newspaper Uthayan. On April 13, 2013, just ten days after an assault on the newspaper's distribution office in the northern provincial town of Kilinochhi, its printing press in the provincial capital of Jaffna was attacked and parts of it damaged in arson.

According to information received from the IFJ's Sri Lankan affiliate, the Free Media Movement, the Uthayan office in Jaffna came under attack just before dawn on April 13, when three armed men arrived and began firing at random. Staff who were organising the day's edition for distribution, scattered in panic. The armed intruders who remain unidentified as of April 15, then went to the printing shop, fired at some of the vital equipment with obvious intent to disable it, and set fire to both newspaper bundles and some of the machinery.

As the FMM reports, Uthayan newspaper has been the target of violence for several years, with 8 workers being killed since 2005.

E. Saravanapavan, who is a Member of Parliament from the Tamil National Alliance of Sri Lanka and proprietor of Uthayan, has said that the chief editor of the newspaper had written to the top police officials of the northern province after the April 3 attack at Kilinochhi, requesting urgent security measures. He received no response. Furthermore, the single police officer provided to the newspaper for security since an especially violent attack in 2006, proved to be ineffective, although he was on the premises when the April 13 attack took place.

The FMM has pointed out in a statement released on April 13 that "the burning of the Uthayan printing press and other attacks on the Tamil media suggests a pattern of violence that is deliberate and that powerful political elements and the security establishment are aware of but are choosing to ignore".

The effort to silence Uthayan after the country's long civil war was formally declared over in May 2009, "is seen as a direct attack on post-war democracy and media freedom in the country, aimed at suppressing the dissemination of important information and diverse views among the public".

The FMM has warned of the "serious implications of such actions for peace and reconciliation". It has demanded that "the government take appropriate action to prevent armed individuals and groups from committing violence in the north, in an area that has the highest military presence in the country".

The IFJ endorses these demands and calls on the Government of Sri Lanka once again, to set a course of action that will end the culture of impunity that has for too long, taken a heavy toll of free speech in the country.

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