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Sri Lanka 23 August 2006

Gunmen set fire to Tamil newspaper’s press

Reporters Without Borders today firmly condemned a new attack on the Tamil-language daily Uthayan on 18 August, when four gunmen burst into its workshop and set fire to the press and electronic equipment causing damage estimated at 22,000 euros. No one was hurt.

The attack was just the latest in a series of attempts to stop the newspaper from circulating. Uthayan is finding it increasingly difficult to hire people to distribute copies in certain army-controlled regions where there are many roadblocks. Distributors and vendors are often the target of threats, and three employees have been killed in less than six months.

16.08.06 - Tamil press group driver killed, newspaper offices raided

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the constant harassment and attacks on the Tamil-owned Sudar Oli press group after a driver was gunned down yesterday in Jaffna while delivering copies of one of its daily newspapers, Uthayan, a police raid was carried out on the Colombo headquarters of the group’s Sudar Oli daily, and the two newspapers’ editors had their police bodyguards withdrawn.

"The intimidation and violence against the Sudar Oli press group is completely unacceptable," the press freedom organisation said. "The lack of serious investigations into the murders of Tamil employees raises suspicions about the attitude of the authorities towards media that do not support the war against the Tamil Tiger armed separatists. We hold the government responsible for anything that happens to the editors and staff of Sudar Oli and Uthayan".

Sathasivam Baskaran, 44, was gunned down in his Uthayan delivery vehicle after taking advantage of the temporary lifting of an army curfew to deliver copies of the newspaper. He was shot while driving his clearly-marked vehicle in an area controlled by the Sri Lankan armed forces. According to the Tamilnet website, he was killed by soldiers.

Yesterday’s raid on Sudar Oli’s premises in Colombo was carried out by marines and police officers. The newspaper’s editor, N. Vithyatharan, told Reporters Without Borders they checked the press cards and ID cards of his employees, especially the journalists. Those from the north of the island were questioned. The police and troops finally left after Vithyatharan stood guarantee for all his staff.

Reporters Without Borders also condemned yesterday’s decision by the authorities to withdraw the police bodyguards who had been assigned to Vithyatharan and managing director M. Saravanabavan. At the end of a meeting today with President Mahinda Rajapakse, they asked why their police protection had been withdrawn. The president suggested they hire private bodyguards.

At least four Tamil newspaper employees have been killed since the start of the year. Suresh Kumar, 35, Uthayan’s head of marketing, and Ranjith Kumar, 28, were shot dead in an attack on the newspaper in Jaffna on 2 May. The newspaper gave the authorities the name of a leader of the Tamil paramilitary group, the EPDP, who was suspected of carrying out the attack, but no investigation was carried out.

Newspaper vendor Mariathas Manojanraj, 23, was killed when a mine went off as he was going to collect copies of the Tamil daily Thinakkural in Jaffna last month. His relatives accused the army of setting off the mine, while some sources claimed it was the Tamil Tigers (the LTTE), who set the bomb.

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