Last year, there had been 19 killings in Jaffna, but, police were keen about only one murder (of a suspected military informant),” recalls V. Premanath, Editor of Uthayan.
When it came to that particular case, police really meant business; they arrested four men and obtained a court order for their prolonged detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act – though the case was remotely related to terrorism.
In the meantime, the other 18 cases were put on the backburner.
“When the police really want to arrest perpetrators, they always do, says Premanath, an experienced journalist, who has spent decades after decades reporting on Jaffna.
But, Premanath, now the editor of Uthayan, is pessimistic about the prospects the perpetrators of the latest attack on his newspaper would ever be arrested.
The Kilinochchi office of the Uthayan was attacked on 3 April by a group of masked men, wielding clubs and iron rods.
Contacted by this newspaper, Police Spokesperson, SP Buddhika Siriwardene, said no arrests has yet been made on the latest incident, though a special team led by an ASP had been assigned to probe the attack.
The anatomy of the latest attack is more reason for Premanath to feel cynical.
The Uthayan office that came under the attack was located 500 metres from the Kilinochchi Police Station. Two female workers of a demining team had spotted the attackers lurching in the dark on a lane, near the office, until the delivery vehicle arrived at the distribution office. The two women fled the scene and later confided to the Uthayan staffers that they sensed the target was the Uthayan office.
The attackers were professionals. They were taking orders from their leader, who allegedly spoke in Sinhala, according to eyewitnesses. Other than the man, who barked out orders, the rest of the men were wearing masks. After beating the employees with clubs and damaging property, the attackers walked away from the crime scene, casually.
Uthayan has been at the receiving end of countless attacks. According to some statistics, it had been subjected to 32 attacks since its inception. Since 2006, it came under attack on 15 occasions, according to its staffers. A deadly attack on the World Press Freedom Day (2 May) in 2006 killed two staffers; its news editor was beaten up and was forced to flee the country; grenades were thrown at the newspaper office; its staffers were harassed and distributors were regularly assaulted.
However, there had not been a single conviction against the perpetrators.
The latest attack came in the wake of an anti-Uthayan campaign launched by the government’s constituent parties such as the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and a group that is allegedly associated with Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.
The protesters have accused that Uthayan had been discriminating against the people in the Vanni.
A ruling party orchestrated protest in Vavuniya against a poem that appeared in the Uthayan was attended by just five persons. The poem under the spotlight had criticized the hastily issued transfer orders of the teachers from Jaffna to the Vanni, which is suffering from the dearth of qualified teachers. The protests and the accompanying ruling party propaganda against Uthayan set the tone for the attack.
However, such a ground work is not even necessary any longer. There is a culture of impunity set in place in the North.
Editor Premanath says his reporters and correspondents based in the Vanni do not identify themselves as media personnel. That way, they court much less troubles.
Two employees, who had been distributing Uthayan, had been attacked in Point Pedro and Nelli Adi in two separate incidents during the last two weeks. During the same period, three vendors who had been threatened not to sell the newspaper lodged complaints with the police in Vavuniya, Mannar and Kilinochchi.
The Army has denied the involvement in the incident. Military Spokesperson, Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya, earlier told this newspaper the Uthayan newspaper and the military forces enjoyed a good relationship. He noted that when the Security Forces Commander, Kilinochchi, visited the scene and later the hospital, the employees had told him that they did not suspect the army as the two parties have a good rapport.
“All of these allegations are fabrications stemming from planned political agendas that these politicians seek to espouse mainly among the international community. The Army is not a paramilitary group to be focusing on such dastardly acts. We are a professional organization committed to the security of all Sri Lankans equally,” he said.
However, Uthayan Editor, Premanath suspects the military was involved in the attack.
The attackers were very ‘professional’ and sophisticated. If it is not the military, there should be another group as sophisticated as the army in the Wanni,” says Premanath.
“We doubt that prospect,” he concludes.
History of attacks
Throughout its history, Uthayan has been a victim of violence blamed on the military, the LTTE, Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and paramilitary groups. As way back as in 1987, stray shells fell near its office, wounding its staffers. In 1990, its office was hit by an air raid, which killed one person.
In 1995, Uthayan journalists joined the exodus of the humanity fleeing Jaffna, as the military captured the town. They carried a printing machine and begun publishing in a makeshift office in Sarasalai.
However, the worst came on the World Press Freedom Day in 2006.
Its office was attacked by the paramilitary group, which stormed the office on 2 May 2006, killing two employees and wounding three others. The gory pictures of the bullet-ridden bodies of victims adorn the wall at one corner of the Uthayan office. Next to the pictures is another set of photograph by its Trincomalee correspondent, Sugirdharajan, who was among the first to arrive at the scene where the five students in Trincomalee were killed.
His pictures, which revealed the students were shot on the head, in the execution style, were published by the Uthayan. Within days of their publication Sugirdharajan was killed by ‘unidentified gunmen.’