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Tamil Journalists' safety remains in peril - Newsletter, 19 October 2020

Last Monday, Tamil Guardian correspondents Kanapathipillai Kumanan and Shanmugan Thavaseelan were brutally assaulted and hospitalised after working on an important story investigating illegal deforestation in Mullaitivu.
 
Despite their perseverance and courage to continue their work in the face of the incessant scrutiny and intimidation over the years, this latest act of violence – one of the most violent encounters so far this year - adds to the deepening sense of fear and concern for press freedom across the Tamil homeland.

The assault has sparked widespread concern - with statements of condemnation from RSF and the Sri Lankan Muslim Media Forum and multiple protests across Mullaitivu by Tamil journalists and the families of the disappeared – all sharing grave concerns for the safety of Tamil journalists.
 
In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, uproar and criticism has intensified this week in response to Kollywood actor Vijay Sethupathy’s announcement that he will portray Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan – who has long-established alliances with multiple Sinhala extremists including suspected war criminal Gotabaya Rajapaksa – in a biopic next year. Fellow actors, directors and political parties took to social media to advise against the project, with the hashtag #ShameonVijaySethupathi trending in India.
 
Eelam Tamil singer and actor Teejay Arunasalam revealed to the Tamil Guardian that he declined a major role in the film and urged Vijay Sethupathi to reconsider his involvement in the project.
 
On Friday, Muralitharan released an official statement, where he attempted to clarify some of the widespread concerns about his previous quotes and claimed that “some of his [previous] remarks were distorted”. Muralitharan, who previously suggested that abuse faced by Tamils and relatives demanding justice for their missing relatives are “misleading”, urged Tamils on the island to “throw away your insecurities” and went on to assert that he has helped Eelam Tamils more than his own Malayaga Tamil community.

Regardless of whether Sethupathi will continue in the role, the uproar around the film once again highlighted the links between sports and politics on the island - amply demonstrated by the yet another accused war criminal Shavendra Silva commissioning to Sri Lankan cricketers as majors in the army.
 
In the UK this week, Liberal Democrats leader, Sir Ed Davey spoke to the Tamil Guardian and called for greater recognition of the Tamil genocide and supported calls to pursue sanctions against alleged war criminals in Sri Lanka “as a no brainer”.
 
The annual British Conservatives party conference also saw multiple British MP’s raise concerns about Sri Lanka and that “alternative avenues need to be pursued”. Harlow MP, Robert Halfon, stressed the importance of “accountability through an international mechanism to ensure that justice is delivered” and Chipping Barnet MP, Theresa Villiers, stated Sri Lanka “seems to be going in the wrong direction”.

As the latest attack on our colleagues has demonstrated, the British politicians are correct in asserting the direction that the island is heading in. Now they must press ahead in forcing through those alternative avenues.

Velraj, Staff Writer

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Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Tamil journalists are particularly at threat, with at least 41 media workers known to have been killed by the Sri Lankan state or its paramilitaries during and after the armed conflict.

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