Gunmen opened fire and torched the office of the main Tamil newspaper in northern Sri Lanka yesterday, police said, the latest in a string of attacks on the nation’s privately owned media.
Three men staged the pre-dawn arson attack on the Uthayan newspaper’s office and printing press in Jaffna, the main city in Sri Lanka’s former civil war zone in the north of the country, owner Eswarapatham Saravanapavan said.
“Employees preparing to deliver the morning newspaper fled as the gunmen stormed in,” he said by telephone, adding there were no injuries, but the printing press was destroyed.
Police said a senior officer was heading an investigation into the attack on the newspaper in Jaffna, 400km north of Colombo, which occurred on the eve of the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year.
“The attackers opened fire and carried out the arson attack,” police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.
The newspaper owner said it was the second attack on the publication in a week and added that the assailants had to be from “either the government or paramilitaries.”
“Who else can carry firearms freely in Jaffna?” he asked.
Sri Lanka lifted emergency rule in 2011, after the military crushed Tamil separatists two years earlier following a decades-long ethnic civil war in the island nation of 20 million people.
However, troops are still deployed in Jaffna and other parts of the country to support the police.
There was no immediate comment from the government, but the main opposition United National Party condemned the assault and said in a statement the government “must take full responsibility for this attack.”
“There must be freedom of expression in any civilized society,” it added.
Another office of the Uthayan in Kilinochchi, in the island’s north, was torched last week and “we asked for security from police,” Saravanapavan said.
The US, which moved a censure motion against Sri Lanka at last month’s UN Human Rights Council over alleged rights abuses, said it was concerned by the attacks on the paper.
“We call upon the authorities to protect freedom of the media and conduct a credible investigation” to find the culprits, a US embassy spokesman said.
Seventeen journalists and media employees have been killed in Sri Lanka in the past decade and no one has been brought to justice. There is no formal censorship, but rights groups say journalists practice self-censorship to avoid attack.
Uthayan’s owner, who is an opposition Tamil National Alliance legislator, said five of his employees had died in attacks on the paper in the past eight years.
In February, a journalist for a privately owned weekly in the capital was shot and wounded by an unidentified gunman.
Saravanapavan said he now will make other printing arrangements for his paper serving Jaffna, which was once the cultural capital of the island’s ethnic Tamil minority and run as a de facto separate state by the Tamil rebels.
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