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Sri Lankan army surrounds Tamil daily's headquarters in Jaffna

Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization, Journalist for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), condemn the action of several hundred soldiers in surrounding the headquarters of the Tamil-language daily Uthayan in the northern city of Jaffna on 18 May 2014.

Uthayan
was the winner of last year's Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize.

Members of the intelligence services were seen among the soldiers who continued to block the Kannarthiddin Road and Navalar Road access to the newspaper until the morning of 20 May. Some of the intelligence officers carried guns while others noted who was entering and leaving the newspaper.

The military operation appeared to be a response to Uthayan's publication on 18 May of a supplement entitled "Mullivaikkal Thuyar Malar - May 18," consisting of poems and accounts by survivors of the Sri Lankan army's massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians in 2009, in the final stages of the civil war between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

"This physical harassment of Uthayan by the military is unjustified and constitutes a grave violation of freedom of information," said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. "It is shocking to see that, five years after the civil war officially ended, the Sri Lankan government still resorts to the most brutal forms of censorship in order to prevent the publication of information about the war."

The security forces provided no explanation for their action. When E. Saravanapavan, Uthayan's owner and a member of the Tamil National Alliance, asked the soldiers why they were blocking the access to the newspaper, they replied that they had orders from the high command and that he should ask the head of the security forces in Jaffna. They refused to give any further explanation.

The army also surrounded another newspaper, Thinakkural, on 18 May.

Uthayan was awarded the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize for defying the civil war climate in order to cover the acts of violence by the security forces against the population in the north of the country.

Armed men attacked and ransacked Uthayan's printing and distribution centres in April 2013.

Sri Lanka is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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