Sri Lanka newspaper office set ablaze, fifth media attack this year

Crime Scene Tape

(Reuters) – Three armed men set fire to the printing machine of a Tamil-language newspaper that is critical of the Sri Lankan government, forcing the paper to halt printing, the editor said on Saturday.

The attack on the Uthayan newspaper office is the fifth attack on the media since January in Sri Lanka’s former war zone in the north, and the second after the United Nations passed a resolution on March 21 calling on the government to address human rights violations.

“Three men wearing helmets threatened my staff at the printing section and set fire to the main printing machine,” Thevanayagam Premananth, the editor of the Uthayan told Reuters.

Uthayan is the leading newspaper in the island nation’s northern peninsula of Jaffna. It has been critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, and the military.

Last week, an unidentified group of people attacked another Uthayan office, leaving five workers injured.

E. Saravanapavan, a lawmaker with the Tamil National Alliance party, which was linked to the former ethnic Tamil separatist rebels, said the government’s failure to take action after previous attacks has encouraged violence against newspapers in the north. Provincial council polls are due In that region later this year.

Police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said an investigation is underway.

Lakshman Hulugalla, director general at the Media Centre for National Security, part of the defence ministry, said initial investigations indicated the attack was an “inside job to tarnish the image of the government.”

No arrests have been made in connection with the previous four attacks.

Political violence has eased since Sri Lanka’s army crushed the Tamil rebellion in 2009, but international human rights groups say attacks on those critical of the government persist. (Reuters)