Uthayan Under Fresh Attack
By Abdul H. Azeez
The Uthayan, Jaffna’s longstanding independent newspaper well known for its outspoken reporting, came under fire again on May 28, 2011 as one of its reporters S. Kavitharan was attacked by armed thugs as he biked to work.
The attack is the latest in a long line of unsolved provocations against the newspaper, which prides itself on reporting matters that are usually shunned by other news organisations.
S. Kavitharan was coming into work at 6.30 am when he was stopped near Hindu College Jaffna by four men armed with cricket bats. They then proceeded to beat him mercilessly. “They never said a word,” said Kavitharan, who sustained injuries to his head and body, but escaped major injuries by seeking refuge in a building close by. “They had dyed hair and some of them wore earrings,” he said, implying that the assailants were dressed like common thugs or hired hands.
The Editor of the Uthayan Prem Anand says the attack was reported to the Jaffna Police, but the police have failed to take any proactive action. “They have told us that they would only be able to help if we identify any of the attackers,” said Anand adding that the lack of corporation on the part of the Police is nothing new to The Uthayan.
The most brutal attack by far against the newspaper came on May 2, 2006 when armed gangs stormed into their offices. The Uthayan’s Marketing Manager B.G. Sahayathasan (also known as Suresh Kumar) and delivery boy Ranjithkumar Rajaratnam were shot dead. “They were looking for our reporter Kuganathan (now news editor), but thankfully he hid in the washroom” says Anand.
Further attacks followed immediately after and a driver named S. Baskaran was killed on May 15 2006. The attacks in May were preceded by the killing of journalist S.S.Suhirtharajan, who was shot dead on 24 January of the same year in Trincomalee.
Anand says that the authorities were no help in tracing the attackers. “The killings happened after 6 p.m.” A crucial point, since the city of Jaffna was under curfew every day after 6 p.m. Anand says that this indicates beyond doubt that the authorities must have helped the attackers in some way. “There is no way to go about after dark on motorcycles carrying weapons,” he said. Anand said that the motorbike’s license plates were handed over to the Police as well, but no culprits have been apprehended yet.
Uthayan journalist S. Rajeevarman was shot dead on 29 April 2007, and journalist V. Nimalarajan was reported missing on 17 November 2007. None of the culprits of these attacks have been brought to book either.
Most of the serious attacks took place during the crucial stages of the war, and have ceased to a certain extent since its end. Anand himself has not left the premises of the newspaper for over four years in fear of threats to his life.
He thinks that the latest attacks are connected to the paper’s stance on freedom of expression in the city of Jaffna. “After the war, things are slightly better. Now the shooting is over, we can move around a little better, even at night,” he said. But added that the freedom of speech and expression is heavily repressed. “Army personnel take part in every single event that is held in the city and people are required to watch what they say or face the consequences,” he said.
Anand claims that ‘military rule’ is strong in Jaffna and says that anyone speaking out against it is singled out and targeted. He relates the incident of one Father Jayakumar who spoke out against military presence at a public gatherings at a Human Rights Commission meeting. Jayakumar was later hit with feces in public and fled the country soon afterwards.
The Uthayan is well known for its daring style of journalism and willingness to report stories that other newspapers tend to stay clear of. “We are always trying to establish our policy” says Anand adding that “more or less, we are the voice of the Tamil people.”