SRI LANKA: Violence against Tamil journalists escalating
K. Ratnasingham, editor in chief, surveys damage done to a car outside a Sudar Oli office.

SRI LANKA: Violence against Tamil journalists escalating

Sudar Oli suffer three attacks in less than two weeks

By Arthur Rhodes
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Colombo --- In the early evening of Monday, Aug. 29, two men on a motorcycle driving down an unpaved side road in Grandpass lobbed a pair of grenades into the printing office of the Tamil-language newspaper Sudar Oli. One man was killed and three were injured in the attack.

This is the third incidence of violence against Sudar Oli in less than two weeks. On Aug. 20 two grenades were thrown into the paperís branch office across town in Wellewatte. The grenades did not explode and police later defused them. Two days later a Sudar Oli reporter, Premachandran Yaturshan, was assaulted at a JVP rally. JVP, or People's Liberation Front, is a primarily Sinhalese political party that vehemently opposes the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Tamil separatist group. Yaturshanís wallet, digital camera and mobile phone were stolen.

In a statement released shortly after the attack against Yaturshan, Sudar Oli said that the "incident drives one to the conclusion that the JVPís hand in the (Aug. 20) Wellawatte Sudar Oli branch office attack cannot be ruled out," an accusation the JVP has publicly denied. The party says that they had no involvement in the attacks against Sudar Oli.

Still, the chief editor of the paper, K. Ratnasingham, has suspicions about the most recent attack against his office. "[The JVP] main aim is to silence Sudar Oli," Ratnashingham told AsiaMedia. "We are supporting the cause of the Tamils, so the JVP has branded us as a pro-tiger paper. They want to stop the Tamil cause. They think the best way to do this is to first stop the Tamil papers, and in this case we are the victims."

Ratnasingham, however, said that there are a number of different groups that could be responsible for the attack against his paper. He declined to name any group specifically but said that a number of different parties throughout the country, including anti-LTTE Tamil groups, might be colluding with the JVP to destroy the Tigers and "anyone else who fights for the freedom of Tamil people." "Anyone who reports the Tamil cause is in danger," said Ratnasingham.

Sunanda Deshapriya, leader of Sri Lankaís Free Media Movement, has labeled such incidents as "an attempt to silence and intimidate the journalists of Sri Lanka." Ratnasingham, however, said that he and his staff would not be stopped: "As long as there is someone alive in this office, we will publish a paper."

Journalist Premachandran Yaturshan was attacked at a JVP rally. (Photos by Shaun T. Kadlec)

The attacks against Sudar Oli come almost four months after the murder of well-known Tamil journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram, who was also considered to have a pro-LTTE bent in his reporting. Ratnasingham believes that the attacks on his paper and the murder of Sivaram are due to the growing strength of the pro-liberation movement within the Tamil community. "The Tamil agitation is growing stronger, and they are unable to respond in any other way other than unleashing violence. In order to suppress the Tamils, they have to suppress the media."

The Sri Lankan government has condemned the attacks and called for a full and thorough investigation.