Office of outspoken Tamil newspaper Uthayan attacked in Sri Lanka

view gallery VIEW GALLERY


An outspoken Tamil newspaper in northern Sri Lanka whose premises have been repeatedly targeted, and its employees killed, was attacked by armed men who stormed into the building and set the printing presses ablaze. It is the second attack on the newspaper in two weeks.

Reports said a gang of three men armed with guns entered the premises of Uthayan in Jaffna before dawn on Saturday and scared away the staff. The men then fired their weapons and set fire to a stack of newspapers awaiting delivery and the printing presses.

“This morning at around 4.45am three people with arms – two were carrying pistols and one was carrying what looked like an AK-47 – came into the building and scared away the security staff,” said the paper’s owner, Eswarapatham Saravanapavan, speaking from Jaffna.

He added: “They shot at the panel board and put kerosene all over the place. Four printing wheels got burned. The main part of the machine was destroyed. They also threw press oil everywhere.”

The assault on the headquarters of Uthayan, or the Rising Sun, followed an attack earlier this month on its distribution office in Kilinochchi. In that attack four members of staff were hurt, one of them seriously.

Uthayan has a record as an outspoken Tamil newspaper that supports political autonomy for Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. It has been repeatedly attacked, most seriously in 2006 when gunmen entered the Jaffna building and opened fire, killing two members of staff. A total of six employees have been killed in the past decade.

When The Independent visited the Jaffna offices of Uthayan in November 2011, its editor, MV Kaanamylnathan, revealed that he had not left his office since 2006 as a result of security concerns. The only exception he made was a visit to his heart specialist once every three months. “For that, I have to make to make special arrangements,” he said.

Instead, he and his wife lived in a small room set up alongside the newsroom. In the room where the news meetings were held by editors, staff had retained the bullet-scarred conference table as a reminder of the 2006 attack

Although the newspaper is considered Tamil nationalist, over the years it has faced threats from the Sri Lankan military, Tamil militants and unidentified thugs allegedly linked to pro-government paramilitaries. Between 1990 and 1995, the city of Jaffna, located at the tip of Sri Lanka, was controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, whose decades-long insurgency for a Tamil homeland was crushed in 2009.

“We have a relationship with all parties, even the military. We carry all the stories and all the statements,” said Mr Kaanamylnathan.

The paper’s owner, Mr Saravanapavan, who is a member of the Tamil National Alliance and a member of parliament, said he believed the paper could have been attacked by either the military or groups linked to the military. He said the paper had recently been publishing articles about the increasing take-over of business and industry in the north of Sri Lanka by the armed forces.

He added: “The Provincial Council elections are happening in September. The government is aware that the existence of the newspaper is adverse to its interests and it has been doing what it can to halt the newspaper.”

A spokesman for the military, Brig Ruwan Wanigasooriya said the allegation by Mr Saravanapavan was untrue. He said the army will cooperate with the police in an investigation.

“There is widespread speculation regarding the attack....Some speculate that the military was involved in either carrying out or supporting this attack.  We reject such allegations,” he said in a statement.

He added: “It is reiterated that the Sri Lankan military forces are duty bound to protect the constitutional rights. Freedom of expression is one of the guaranteed rights. The military has no requirement to engage in acts against freedom of expression.” 

Despite the end of the civil war in 2009, attacks on media workers have not halted. Earlier this year, investigative journalist Faraz Shauketaly, who holds both British and Sri Lankan citizenship, was shot by three men who broke into his house in a Colombo suburb.

The 54-year-old investigative reporter works for the Sunday Leaders newspaper, which also has a reputation for being critical of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He required surgery to remove a bullet. Amnesty International has estimated that at least 14 journalist have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006. Many more have fled and fear a climate of impunity.

Mr Saravanapavan said he arranged for an alternative printing press and vowed that Sunday’s edition of Uthayan would appear. He said: “I will be going ahead.”

Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for the Campaign to Protect Journalists, said: "These attacks on Uthayan mirror the pressure that is still aimed at much of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. They take place with absolute impunity. Under the Rajapaksa government the record of abuse aimed at Sri Lanka's media is unmatched in the country's history. "

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'