ALL the local newspapers of Jaffna that defied publishing an anonymous and defiling notice against the LTTE came under attack by an armed group in the early hours of Thursday.
The notice was brought out in the name of 'Tamil Front Protecting the Country' allegedly linked to a paramilitary group operating with Colombo.
Thousands of copies of the local newspapers, Valampuri, Uthayan and Thinakkural (Jaffna edition), were burnt down wholesale in huge flames by the armed group allegedly operated by the Sri Lankan military intelligence at Aanaippanthi and Kannathiddi junctions at 5:00 a.m. Thursday, June 25, while the newspapers were being taken for distribution.
The distribution workers were also brutally attacked.
A distribution worker of Thinakkural, 26-year-old Anojan, who was physically attacked was also robbed of his belongings by the armed men.
Newspaper editors of Jaffna were intimidated to publish the notice and warned of dire consequences the previous day through anonymous telephone calls. However, the editors sceptical of the contents of the notice decided not to publish it.
The Managing Director of Tamil-language newspaper, Uthayan, the biggest seller in the northern district of Jaffna told the BBC that his staff in Jaffna have been ordered to quit their jobs or be killed.
'Tamil Front Protecting the Country in a warning notice, delivered by men in helmets on a motorbike, accused Uthayan of being a "mouthpiece for terrorists" and of aiming to destroy peace, said Saravanapavan.
The security forces have laid on extra protection but Saravanapavan said he was especially worried about the ordinary workers and newsagents who, he said, should be able to operate without fear.
He said it was incumbent on the government to ensure no one was harmed.
Saravanapavan said that one of his colleagues had spoken to President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had promised to take necessary steps to protect media freedom.
Commenting on the attack, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarians Mavai Senathirajah and Suresh Premachandran at a press conference said: "We do not believe that the elections are going to be free and fair. The burning of newspapers on the eve of nominations raises a big question about the circumstances under which the elections are going to be conducted,"
The government is fully responsible for the attack on newspapers that took place when two of its ministers are camping in Jaffna said Suresh Premachandran MP.
After the burning of the Eezhanaadu newspaper along with the public library in 1981 by the Sri Lankan forces, and again the burning of Eezhanaadu by the Indian military (IPKF), this is the third major burning of the newspapers of Jaffna by occupying forces.
In 1981, the burning of the public library and the newspaper office took place while two of Colombo's ministers were present in Jaffna and it is alleged they had a direct hand in orchestrating that. The present attack on newspapers took place when Sri Lanka's Education Minister and General Secretary of Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling UPFA alliance, Susil Premajayantha and Social Welfare Minister Douglas Devandanda were camping in Jaffna.
Meanwhile, a Tamil journalist was kidnapped from outside her home in the capital Colombo and held for a day by people claiming to be the police.
Krishni Ifam, a Tamil reporter who works for media development NGO Internews, said the men had warned her to give up journalism altogether.
According to Ifam, men claiming to policemen forced her to get into their vehicle outside her Colombo home early on Wednesday and drove for several hours while keeping her blindfolded. She was then released in the central city of Kandy late on Wednesday, June 24 with a tiny amount of cash.
Ifam said the abductors took her belongings, asked if she was writing articles for foreign media outlets and warned her to give up journalism altogether before releasing her.
Ifam used to write for a prominent Tamil-language newspaper.
Earlier this month Poddala Jayantha, a press freedom campaigner, was abducted and assaulted while returning from work.
According to Amnesty International, at least 14 Sri Lankan journalists and other media workers have been killed by suspected government paramilitaries and rebels since the beginning of 2006.
A number of others have been detained, tortured or have disappeared, and at least 20 more have fled the country because of death threats, according to Amnesty.