Reporters Without Borders today condemned the killing of newspaper vendor Mariathas Manojanraj by a mine that was set off as he was going to Jaffna on 27 July to collect newspapers for distribution. The attack came as death threats are being made against the distributors of Tamil-language newspapers.
“Tamil journalists have often been murdered or threatened with murder because of their coverage of the fighting between the government forces and Tamil paramilitaries on the one hand, and the Tamil Tiger rebels, the LTTE, on the other,” the press freedom organisation said. “Now it is the turn of newspaper distributors to be the target of violence and harassment.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We call on the authorities to investigate Manojanraj's death, without ruling out the possibility that he was directly targeted, and to give protection to the newspaper distributors who are being threatened in the east of the country.”
Manojanraj, 23, was killed by an explosion as he was going to pick up copies of the Tamil-language daily Thinakkural in Jaffna. The Sri Lankan army claimed that he was the collateral victim of an LTTE attack meant for a military patrol, but his relatives suspects that Tamil paramilitaries or the Sri Lankan army itself was responsible for the blast.
The distributors of Thinakkural and Sudar Oli, another Tamil daily, have been receiving death threats since 21 July. In one case a man claiming to belong to a Tamil paramilitary group led by Karuna made a threatening phone call to M. Yahoob, the Sudar Oli distributor for the districts of Batticaloa and Amparai. The number used for the call was 077-311-0603.
Some of the distributors of these newspapers have cut back or modified their circuits in these government-controlled areas.
Tamil-language newspapers accused of supporting the Tamil cause are often the target of attacks. Grenades have been thrown at the offices of Sudar Oli on several occasions, killing one employee and injuring three others in August. Two employees of the newspaper Uthayan were killed in a shooting attack on its offices in Jaffna on 2 May.