March 13, 2007
Hon. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, MP
Minister of Mass Media and Information
163, Kirulapona Mawatha,
Via facsimile: 94-11-2513462
Dear Minister Yapa:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is distressed by the shortage of newsprint in the northern peninsula of Jaffna, which seriously threatens the ability of major Tamil-language newspapers to continue publishing. The Sri Lankan government has a duty to safeguard the right of Jaffna residents to receive and impart news and information, and should ensure that vital paper supplies are delivered without interference.
During a press conference on March 8, you told reporters that you were unaware of the newsprint shortage in Jaffna and would initiate a government investigation into the matter. But media advocates and editors of newspapers affected by the shortage have made repeated public and private pleas to authorities for help, including a registered letter sent by Uthayan Managing Director E. Saravanapavan on February 20 to your office, and another one hand-delivered to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on January 31.
Newsprint has been in short supply since August 2006, when the government closed the main road leading to the peninsula amid fighting between security forces and the separatist rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Major Tamil-language newspapers in the area, including Uthayan and Yarl Thinakkural, have been forced to slash their page counts, and have resorted to printing on colored paper, according to journalists and media advocates in Sri Lanka.
Earlier this year, port authorities unloaded a shipment of newsprint from a cargo ship in the eastern port city of Trincomalee before it departed for Jaffna, according to Sunanda Deshapriya, spokesman for the Colombo-based press advocacy group Free Media Movement. Officials gave no explanation for their actions. The paper is still waiting to be shipped to Jaffna.
The delay is one of a series of threats to the ability of Tamil newspapers to carry out their professional responsibilities. Staff members for these publications have faced repeated incidents of violent attack, while the government has done little to ensure their safety. CPJ has noted several of those incidents in the past:
• On September 7, 2006, the staff of Uthayan were attacked by two men, one brandishing a pistol, who forced their way into the paper’s offices around 7:45 p.m. See CPJ’s September 8 alert.
• On August 19, 2006, warehouses containing Uthayan‘s printing equipment were burned to the ground. Four days earlier, on August 15, 2006, an Uthayan driver was killed in Jaffna. See CPJ’s August 21 alert.
• On May 2, 2006, five masked gunmen killed two employees and wounded at least two others, one seriously, when they sprayed the paper’s Jaffna office with automatic weapons fire. See CPJ’s May 2 alert.
• On February 15, 2007, Sabramaniam Ramachandran, a freelance reporter for Yarl Thinakkural and Valampuri, was reportedly abducted in Jaffna and is still missing and feared dead. See CPJ’s February 16 alert.
It is vital during the escalating conflict and refugee crisis in Sri Lanka that Tamil speakers have full and free access to news and information. This right is guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka and by international law. As a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom around the world, we urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that supplies of newsprint can once again reach Jaffna.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.