Media under Irony

by Carla Lee, Colombo, 10 March 2009

Once again, the barbarous State Violence was operated in Sri Lanka, where one can be arrested by abductors. The ‘abductors’ were apparently policemen and their ‘colleagues’, who could be varied from the policemen or Special Task Forces (STF) to the Tamil paramilitary groups, which are closely working with the government. And the abducted was a journalist.

On February 26th N. Vithyatharan, the senior Tamil editor of the Colombo based-Sudaroli newspaper and Jaffana-based Uthayan was evidently abducted in the morning but was ‘declared’ to be ‘arrested’ in the afternoon. It happened in ‘bright morning light’ at the funeral ceremony, in which people are supposed to be solemnly pray for the souls of the departed.

“We saw the White Van coming. Three in police uniform first came out from the Van to drag down him and try to push him inside the vehicle. It was around 9:40 am.” One eye witness accounted.

When three policemen faced strong resistance of their abducted, three men in civilian clothes came out from the Van to ‘help’ the policemen. Abduction was completed.

“It is obviously abduction. If you need to arrest somebody, why don’t you inform the person properly to arrest?” One human rights activist in Colombo exclaimed.

According to another witness, N. Vidyatharan asked abductors ‘who are you?’ The answer was they’re from Dehiwala police station. (‘Dehiwala’ is the outskirt of Colombo) “But they didn’t show any document or warrant let alone their ID card”, the witness said. “They stamped down those who were trying to prevent the journalist from being taken.” He added.

In the ‘White Van’, which is a typical indication of abduction in Sri Lanka, N. Vidyatharan had been attacked on his head and heels. He was dumped at Demattagoda by ‘abductors’ and ever since detained at the Crime Division of the Police in Demattagoda (‘Colombo 9’ quarter). He was suspected, according to the police, of getting a call during the air raid on Colombo by the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or LTTE) on February 21ST. The police allegedly did not know if he was a journalist, but trailed the suspecting phone number. However, police didn’t make clear “Who” or “Where” was the call from either.

“At that night, I was washing my shoes hard to remove gums, having conversation with my father. My father told me that ‘put some oils’ to remove gums and then suddenly power was gone.”

One of the three children of N. Vithyatharan described about the night when LTTE’s air raid was followed by power cut in Colombo. Since then, the three children haven’t attended school. Instead they visited their father two or three times a nearly every day with their mother. “How can I study when my father was ‘arrested’ in such a way?” Another child asked with light tears in the eyes.

The police also summoned several Tamil journalists, including President and Secretary of Sri Lankan Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) for interrogation in a connection with N.Vithayatharan, against whom the authority seems to try to indict Terrorism charge. As nothing found wrong about the ‘suspecting’ call, the authority now said they need to investigate another call, which was from foreign country.

It is observed that he was ‘arrested’ for his critical position on the ongoing warfare in Vanni, the country’s North, where some unknown number of civilians (estimated from 80,000 up to 350,000) have trapped between the Sri Lankan Armed forces and the LTTE. The both Sudaroli and Uthayan, for which N. Vidyatharan is an editor, have criticized the military operation on the politico-ethnic conflict. The both papers have had a history of being attacked or harassed by the seemingly State-sponsored goons for their criticism on the government.

Terrorism charge against Tamil journalist


This is not the first time that Tamil journalist would be facing Terrorism charge. On March 7th, it has completed one year of the detention of Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam (or ‘Tissa’ in short). Tissa was ‘arrested’ on March 7th 2008 in a kind of abducting manner, in which he was not allow to inform his family that he was taken. The arrest came a couple of weeks after this outspoken journalist had created a news website ‘Outreachlk’ with funding from FLICT, and NGO supported by the German development agency GTZ. This has created another charge against him, absurdly, that is “an act of terrorism by collecting money from NGOs to publish the magazine.”

Besides this, police have tried to make his articles, which were published during the peace process in 2006, with Terrorism charge. However, some critics in Colombo believed that his last article titled <Child soldiers: What the Govt. report did not report>, which was published on February 24th 2008 on the Sunday Times online, was probably more detested by the authority.

In this article, he has criticized the government’s customary approach on LTTE’s child soldiers, while the government itself has been directly or indirectly involved in the child recruitment by TMVP, the Tamil paramilitary group had led by the former LTTE eastern commander Karuna but later led by another commander Pillyan, who’s the Chief Minister of Eastern Province. Having defected to the Government side with his numerous carders in 2004, he is said to have contributed enormously for the government forces in the recent conventional warfare, where the Sri Lankan Army appears to be winning.

In his article, Tissa has left implicative question, which is that: “The exposure of the machinations of the government and the institutions it has established, should not blind us to the fact that, finally, the UN is a club of states. Whether this club of states is willing to impose strictures on a fellow-member, fighting a counterinsurgency war using child soldiers, is left to be seen.”

In a mean time the ‘abduction-styled’ arrest is regarded as a sequence of the ‘War on journalist’ that has been randomly waged by the authority. In this war, not only Tamil journalists but also Singhalese journalists too have been targeted, unless they either nod or flatter of the regime’s hard line policy. In fact the government has been suspected of behind of the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the editor of the weekly Sunday Leader, which is respected by many for its investigative reports and vocal criticism of of the authority.

“Lasantha used to be close with the President Mahinda. Probably he was the only journalist, who can call the President ‘Mr.Mahinda’ other than ‘His Excellency…” One journalist from the state-owned media said.

When such a prominent editor was killed, fear amongst media and civil society has been growing more than ever before. More than 20 journalists have fled the country in the past three months, while 9 journalists were killed and 27 were abducted in the last two years.

“It is a State Terrorism” one journalist in Colombo articulated. The ‘State Terrorism’ has been fighting with ‘the World Branded-terrorist organization’, the LTTE, having claimed for months that it can vanish the LTTE “within days”. And the war in LTTE-controlled Vanni province has been hardly challenged in Colombo, whereas War on Media has been imminently outraged by many.

The first war has conducted without journalists, who must be independent witnesses of such a State action, while the second war (on Journalist) has been going towards barbarous level. To win the first war, the State has successfully ‘displaced’ all possible witnesses, notably independent journalists and aid workers from the war zone. It has further expanded its ‘warfare’ to all dissidents, particularly media, to silence any other voice. Thus, the “war without journalist” and the “war on journalist” are not irrelevant but alike.

As a result, the media except few haven’t seriously raised questions on the humanitarian crisis in Vanni, which has been created by the violent nature of the war as well as blockade of all necessary aids and goods by the State. Instead, most of English papers, which are quite influential in the country, are busy to carry out the triumphant stories of the Government forces, provoking patriotic atmosphere, whereas concerns of trapped civilians are barely written.

However, it is fair to say that it is done not only out of fear but also out of war-acceptable attitude based on abhorrence on LTTE. There are consensus among people in Colombo including journalists’ circle that the LTTE deserves to be eliminated “at any costs”, which costs have been and will be inevitably tremendous with civilian casualties. In fact, this majority-oriented editorial line, which has disregard of disaster-trapped life (no matter whether it’s Tsunami or War) of their fellow citizens in North and East, has been witnessed for long years, and it’s been strengthened in recent period as a result of the “War on Journalist”. It maybe said the ‘State Terrorism’ has been propped up by media, which are the very victims of “that Terrorism’, ironically.

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