Sri Lanka: Tamil newspapers curtail distribution after threats

New York, July 31, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by threats to distributors of two Tamil-language dailies, Sudar Oli and Thinakkural, in Batticaloa and Amparai districts of eastern Sri Lanka. Both newspapers stopped distributing in the area last week after they received threatening phone calls, their managing editors told CPJ.

On July 24, a caller identifying himself as a member of the Karuna group threatened a distributor of Sudar Oli, Managing Editor E. Saravanapavan told CPJ. The group is a renegade faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has been accused by the LTTE of having government backing. The caller warned the distributor not to bring the dailies from the capital, Colombo, where they are printed, to the eastern districts. Over the next several days, threats were made to distributors and vendors of the two newspapers, and the editorial staff of Thinakkural, according to staff members and the Free Media Movement, a Colombo-based press freedom advocacy organization.

Members of the Karuna group have denied making the threats, according to local media.

The curtailment of the newspapers’ distribution came amid increased fighting between LTTE and security forces in Sri Lanka. An LTTE leader told reporters today that the country’s long civil war had resumed after the collapse of a 2002 ceasefire.

“We condemn the repeated attacks on Tamil-language newspapers, including Sudar Oli and Thinakkural, whose staff members fear violent reprisal,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “As violence escalates in Sri Lanka, we call on all sides to do everything in their power to ensure that the press can operate safely.”

Earlier this year, Subramaniyan Sugitharajah, a part-time reporter for Sudar Oli, was killed after reporting on the January 2 killing of five Tamil students.