SLTMA slams military harassment of Thinakathir

[TamilNet, Sunday, 30 December 2001, 09:20 GMT]
Sri Lanka's Tamil Media Alliance Saturday protested to the Ministry of Mass Communication over the attack on Dharmaratnam Sivaram, a well known defence analyst and journalist, by "persons connected with the security forces." Mr. Sivaram, a Colombo-based contributor to TamilNet, suffered extensive injuries in the attack which occurred at the office of the Thinakathir newspapers in Batticaloa town late on Wednesday night.

"The attack [on Wednesday] is part of a pattern of intimidation directed at the Thinakathir, a regional daily published in Batticaloa by forces inimical to the freedom of the press and the independence of journalists as well as against Mr. Sivaram personally," the SLTMA's letter said.

"This is not the first time that the staff and the offices of Thinakathir have been intimidated and attacked," the SLTMA said.

sivaram_injured_291201.jpgOn November 2, 2000 Deva Athiran, a Thinakathir reporter was abused in obscene language and assaulted by an accounts clerk and the additional director of education, both known supporters and activists of the People's Alliance (PA) in Batticaloa, when he went to the provincial department of education on an official coverage. The police however said they could not proceed with the case due to a lack of evidence.

On November 18, 2001, a grenade explosion occurred near the Thinakkathir office. Following this, the police shot indiscriminately and damaged houses and other buildings nearby. When Mr. Rushangan and another journalist wanted to photograph the incident, their camera was forcibly taken away and the film confiscated.

"There have been many occasions when the brigade commander, 233 Brigade, Batticaloa, has called up the editor and members of staff of Thinakathir and warned them against publishing news, which the army held was inimical to its interests," the SLTMA said.

"These incidents demonstrate a trend of intimidation aimed at preventing the Thinakathir from expressing its views and publishing news with freedom. We also like to draw attention to the fact that Mr. Sivaram has been a target of intimidation and death threats under the PA regime. The state media has carried out persistent and extensive propaganda clearly aimed at instigating extremist elements to target him and his family."

"Taking into account these incidents and the gravity of what happened on Wednesday evening, the SLTMA earnestly requests you to persuade the government to bring to book the culprits without fear or favour and take measures to prevent such acts of intimidation occurring in the future."

The SLTMA provided details of the events of Wednesday night: "At around 10.30 p.m. on Wednesday a group of people known to have connections with a section of the security forces in Batticaloa entered the press of Thinakathir with the intention of preventing the printing of next day's newspaper. Hearing of this matter K. Rushangan, editor, Thinakathir and other members of the editorial staff made their way press to dissuade the troublemakers from their intended course of action.

Mr. Sivaram, who had come to the Thinakathir office to pick up photographs, accompanied the editorial staff to the press. He told the troublemakers that they had no right to stop the printing of the newspaper and asked them to leave the premises. The editorial staff returned thereafter to the head-office of Thinakathir at No. 115, Trincomalee Road, in Batticaloa town.

"About 15 minutes later, a group of six persons, including those who had earlier tried to prevent the printing of the paper arrived at Thinakathir's head-office armed with clubs, batons and swords. It is believed that at least one assailant was armed with a gun. The group set upon Mr. Sivaram and beat him up with clubs and batons, causing him extensive injuries, particularly on the head. Another member of the editorial staff, Paramasamy Wijendran, was also severely injured.

"Meanwhile, a section of the gang tried to enter the office but was prevented by Mr. Sivaram though he was bleeding profusely by this time. The group however proceeded to smash the offices' windowpanes and other equipment lying in the porch including Mr. Sivaram's motorbike.

"The gang prevented the staff from leaving the newspaper office premises to the hospital for over one hour. Though repeated telephone calls were made to the Batticaloa Hospital to send an ambulance to dispatch the wounded, the hospital declined to do so. Friends eventually took the injured to hospital around 11.30 p.m.

"On arrival at the hospital, the staff members of Thinakathir saw the main assailant had already arrived there. A member of the security forces who is known to be a friend of the assailant was also present but left soon after. Mr. Sivaram and Mr. Wijendran were then admitted to the Batticaloa hospital."


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