‘The gun is silencing the pen’ – Jaffna journalists

[TamilNet, Thursday, 10 May 2007, 11:49 GMT]
Following the recent murder of another journalist in Jaffna by suspected Army-backed paramilitaries, the Journalists Union there has appealed to the international community to defend media freedom in Sri Lanka. Despite international media watchdogs’ disquiet over threats to Sri Lankan journalists, paramilitaries are openly threatening media workers and civil society activists in the northern peninsula, reporters say. The journalists appeal was supported this week by an appeal to the government signed by the Tamil Nationalist Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil party.

In a petition to the United Nations’ Secretary General, the Jaffna journalists pleaded for the international community to act to protect media freedom.

“The pen is being silenced by the gun. We ask the entire world why they are silent?” the letter said.

It urged the international community to “take action … rather than merely publish annual reports about journalists’ untimely deaths.”

“We media personnel make this request to the world at large,” the letter said.

“We humbly ask you to take measures to save journalists’ lives and protect democracy in Sri Lanka.”

The Jaffna-based Tamil News Information Centre (TNIC), a registered association of established by academics, lawyers, former parliamentarians and senior journalists said Army-backed paramilitaries are systematically targeting Tamil journalists.

Journalists critical of government policy and those reporting on activities of the paramilitaries, are being named and openly threatened on the Army-run radio station in Jaffna, it said.

Some of those named on the Army radio have subsequently been shot dead in the garrison town.

The TNIC, among other civil society organisations in Jaffna, has been involved in probing abductions of youth and social activists in Jaffna and releasing gathered information and evidence to media.

The Jaffna journalists’ petition was handed over to UN officials last Monday after a protest march in Vanni to condemn the most recent killing of a Tamil journalist, Selvarajah Rajivarman.

Rajivarman worked for the Uthayan newspaper, whose staff and offices have repeatedly been attacked by Army-backed paramilitaries, including those from the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

The EPDP is a Parliamentary ally of President Rajapakse and its cadres operate alongside the Sri Lankan military in counter-insurgency against the Tamil Tigers.

EPDP members were suspected in the murder of journalist Mylvaganam Nimalarajan in 2000 and last year's murder of the three Uthayan employees, the international watchdog RSF (Reporters Without Borders) said in a statement on May 1.

Rajivarman as the second journalist to be killed in a government-controlled area in the past few weeks and is the third member of TNIC to be killed in Jaffna the past few months.

The organization lamented the killings were continuing “despite all the complaints and pleas made to Human Rights Commission, Sri Lankan Police and International Human Rights organizations regarding the public threat issued to TNIC workers.”

Last month RSF criticized the Sri Lankan government for contributing to the climate of terror.

"The impunity reigning in the east and north encourages the militias and death squads to continue their human rights violations. The government, several of whose members regularly threaten the press and human rights activists, is partly to blame for this violence," RSF said.

"The people who murder journalists in Sri Lanka feel so well protected that they carry out fresh murders to mark the anniversaries of their preceding ones," RSF said.


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