Sunday, August 28, 2011

‘Do Not Kill the Journalists; Do Not Kill the Democracy’: Rare Sri Lanka Media Protest

Assault on Kuganathan is an assault on the Truth.

Sri Lanka’s three decade long civil war was brought to an end in May 2009.
But, the media continues to face suppression, while dozens of journalists live in exile.

DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai reports on a rare protest by journalists in the North of Sri Lanka demanding greater protection.

“Keep Writing” chanted the 350 protesters in Jaffna. They stopped traffic in the cities busiest street for more than an hour.

They are here in response to a brutal assault on the news editor of Jaffna based Tamil newspaper.

Gnanasundaram Kuganathan was seriously injured in the attack by unknown men four weeks ago.

He is slowly recovering in an undisclosed place.

President of Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance Bharati Rajanayagam says it was not an isolated event.

“Tamil journalists have been attacked in Jaffna. Earlier, journalist Nimalarajan was attacked and killed in Jaffna. Attacks on journalists continued in Jaffna. The Sinhala journalists from Colombo have come to Jaffna in large numbers, and are protesting for the first time. When the journalists in Jaffna live in fear, and are afraid to protest on the street, the participation of the Sinhala journalist’s helps.”

To show support for journalists working in the restrictive north a group of 47 journalists and activists travel from Colombo to Jaffna along the main highway known as A9.

They carried placards and chanted continuously in Tamil and Sinhala “Do Not Kill; Do Not Kill Us; Do Not Kill the Journalists; Do Not Kill the Democracy”
Sunil Jayasekera is a Sinhala journalist and the Convener of the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka.

“We have decided to come to Jaffna to show solidarity and respect the courage of the journalists here. We cannot keep quiet we want to put pressure on the authorities to bring the culprits before the law, and safeguard media freedom. Uthayan newspaper that is published in Jaffna has been attacked a few times. The journalists in Jaffna live in fear. News Editor of Uthayan newspaper was brutally attacked recently. No action has been taken by the authorities to change this situation. Kuganathan was under threat. Armed men came in search for him on the World Press Freedom day in 2006. They shot and killed journalists and damaged their equipment. They were looking for Kuganathan for the first time to kill him. Nobody has been punished with regard to these incidents, no action was taken.”

This was the first time Tamil and Sinhala journalists had protested together in Jaffna.

President of Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance Bharati Rajanayagam says they can’t remind silence.

“Although it is said that the war is over and peace prevails, freedom of expression is suppressed especially, the voices trying to tell the the plight of the people. Tension prevails in Jaffna. Tamil and Sinhala journalists standing together and protesting about this is a new phenomenon.”

In a recent statement the International media watchdog Reporters without borders called on authorities to bring those behind attacks on journalists in the North to justice.

Traffic on Hospital Roadin Jaffna, North of Sri Lanka is blocked as the protesters stepped on the street and took over the space

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

“I want to continue to highlight the activities against the humanity” ~ Gnanasundaram Kuganathan

Gnanasundaram Kuganathan is a simple man with a sweet smile

It’s a miracle that I survived. I was beaten almost to death. Many attempts have been made to kill me, so that my writing will come to an end!. I did not think that, I will survive. The God has saved me to serve the people through journalism. I am slowly recovering. Today, I am blessed to be alive. I have highlighted many issues in my writing. I want to continue to highlight the activities against the humanity, but I am not sure whether I will be able to hold the pen again, because my right hand fingers are frozen” emotionally shares Gnanasundaram Kuganathan (59) while tears filled his eyes.

He is loved by the fellow journalists

The News Editor of Uthayan ~ Tamil language daily newspaper Gnanasundaram Kuganathan (59) was brutally assaulted by unknown men on 29th of July 2011 at night at 7.30pm on Kasthuriyaar road in Jaffna, as he was walking back home for dinner from work. I met him in Jaffna recently, as he is currently recovering from the severe injuries caused by the brutal assault.

It was a Friday. On 29th of July 2011, I was walking home for dinner from the office. I shouted “அம்மா” “அம்மா” ~ Amma”, “Amma” (Mother, Mother) after the two young men hit me with iron rods on my head and right hand. I ran into my house, I was in critical condition, and later I was admitted to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital (Intensive Care Unit) by my fellow journalists. I was unconscious for three days at the intensive care unit of the hospital.

I can identify the two young men who have brutally assaulted me. One person is a tall man and the other is a short man. Both men are below 30 year old” keeps sharing Gnanasundaram Kuganathan, while holding the right hand tightly with his left hand, and continues to speak softly with his usual sweet smile. Gnanasundaram Kuganathan can communicate in Tamil, English and Sinhala. He is one among a few journalists who can communicate in all three languages in Jaffna Peninsula. He has 30 years of experience in the field of journalism. Due to the numbness in the right hand, he had to remove his wedding engagement Gold ring from the right hand to left hand ring finger.

Gnanasundaram Kuganathan is a "People's Person"

A protest was organised by Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (SLMETU),Media Movement for Democracy (MMD) and South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA).Nearly 47 journalists from Colombo traveled to Jaffna by A9 highway to show solidarity. They condemned the brutal assault by protesting in front of the Sri Lanka Transport Board bus stand in Jaffna on 16th of August 2011. It was a rare protest for the Peninsula people to witness. “ஏதாவது பிரச்சினையோ?” ~ “Is there any problem?”, “என்ன பிரச்சினை?” ~ “What is the problem?”, “இங்கை என்ன நடக்குது?” ~ “What is happening here?” a few onlookers, passers ~ by and shop keepers asked me while the protest was getting underway on a balmy day in Jaffna. “இங்கை உண்மையா என்ன நடக்குது?" ~ “What is actually happening here” asked the owner of a newly built restaurant, while I was running to the restaurant roof top to capture the moments on my camera.

Argument between the Police and the protesters

There was chaos as the protesters arrived in Jaffna town with placards in Tamil. Police in the vicinity came closer and asked them not to block the traffic. Verbal argument took place between the Police and the protesters. But the protesters kept chanting and walking. The traffic came to a standstill for a couple of moments, as the protesters took the space on the mot busiest road in Jaffna, the Hospital road while carrying the placards in Tamil ~ ““யாழ்ப்பாண ஊடகவியலாளர் உயிருக்கு யார் பாதுகாப்பு?” ” ~ “Who is responsible for the lives of the journalists in Jaffna?”, “ஊடக சுதந்திரம் பாதுகாக்கப்பட வேண்டும்” ~ “Media freedom needs to be protected”, “எப்போ முடியும் யாழ்ப்பாணத்தில் அடக்குமுறைகள்?” ~ “When will the suppression come to an end in Jaffna?”, “ஊடக சுதந்திரத்தைப் பாதுகாக்க ஒன்றுபடுவோம்” ~ "Let’s unite to protect media freedom”, “குகநாதனுக்கு விழுந்த அடி உண்மைக்கு விழுந்த பேரிடி”~ "Assault on Kuganathan is an assault on the Truth, “ஊடகத்துறைக்கு எதிரான அடக்குமுறையை ஒழிப்போம்” ~ "Eradicate Suppression Against the Media” “ஊடகத்தின் மீதான தாக்குதலை உடனே நிறுத்து” ~ “Stop Attacking the Media Immediately”, “ஜனநாயகத்தின் குரலை ஒடுக்காதே” ~ "Don’t Suppress the voice of Democracy”, “தேர்தலில் தோற்றவர்களா மண்டையைப் பிளந்தார்கள்?” ~ “Did they split the head those who lost the elections?

The protesters chanted “Let Us Write”,“Continue; Continue; Continue to Write”,“Do Not Kill; Do Not Kill; Do Not Kill Us; Do Not Kill the Journalists, Do Not Kill the Democracy”,“Uthyan was attacked, but nobody was arrested”, “Bring the culprit to the courts”“Do Not Attack; Do Not Attack; Do Not Attack the Media”, “Take Your Hands Off Media”“Stop; Stop; Stop the Suppression” “Kuganathan; Kuganthan who wrote the plight of the people”, “Kuganathan was attacked with Iron rods”,“Kuganathan; Kuganathan; Keep Writing", "Lift the Emergency Immediately” in Tamil and Sinhala. There were nearly 350 journalists, activists and politicians participated in the protest according to the organisers.

Journalists from Colombo came to Jaffna to condemn the assault on Gnanasundaram Kuganathan and participated in the protest. It’s the best way to show solidarity. We, journalists should unite and act against the continuing suppression” says Sellappa Kathirgamathamby, the President of North Sri Lanka Journalists’ Association.

The RSF ~ Reporters Without Borders pointed out in its recent statement “This attack must not be the prelude to a new wave of violence against journalists, which has been on the wane during the past year, in part because so many journalists are in exile. We remind the authorities that impunity continues to encourage wrongdoers.”

Who is responsible for the lives of the journalists in Jaffna?

Assault on Kuganathan is an assault on the Truth

"Kuganathan is a good friend of mine. I have come here to show solidarity" shares Velautham Thayanithi or Daya Master (As commonly known) the former Media Spokesperson of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

Traffic on Hospital Road is blocked as the protesters stepped on the street and took over the space

Eradicate Suppression Against the Media

Journalists and activists took the space on Hospital Road in Jaffna while chanting slogans to protect media freedom

Let’s unite to protect media freedom

Sri Lanka is ranked fourth with nine unsolved journalist murders or0.443 unsolved journalist murders per one million inhabitants according to CPJ ~ Committee to Protect Journalists, international media watchdog

Scene on Kasthuriyaar Road in Jaffna

As protesters keep walking along the Hospital Road

Newspaper stand in Jaffna

Uthayan ~ Tamil language daily newspaper was started in 1985 in Jaffna, North of Sri Lanka

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Wall and other works

“The Wall” ~ 320” x 90” x12” Installation, Mixed media, 2011

"The Wall and other works” ~ An exhibition of an Installation, Drawings and Paintings by Chandraguptha Thenuwara was held at the Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo from 23rd July 2011 to 31st July 2011. Passers ~ by just walked into the gallery to view the exhibition, but most of them were at standstill for a couple of moments. More time was spent in front of The Wall which was 30 feet long and 7 feet high with various images of people. The images reflected on tinted mirrors on both sides of the wall. The exhibition was a kind of commemoration of uncommemorative events of our recent past and at the same time responds to contemporary situations.

Although images were in a form of absence they also become a presence. In this exhibition viewers participated to complete the art work. They lit a candle in the voids of the wall. It provided a kind of connection; it lives the memory. This act of remembrance became a contemplation which helps to overcome grief. It also made connections to the past,present and future.

Many sculptures creating an idea of an endless wall

"These images represent Sri Lankans ~ Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers. Who will light candles for everybody ~ civilians, soldiers and rebels who were killed in the war?" emotionally queries Chandraguptha Thenuwara.

"The empty spaces were created by the conflict and war. There are lots of innocent civilians, security forces personnel, politicians; government servants, rebels, militants etc. who lost their lives. If we look at those deaths not considering their social status or way of living, all are human beings. Everybody is a loved one of someone. I hope this experience of participation with an art work will create a special kind of social consciousness and a kind of responsibility for the past as well as respect across ethnic divides. It will help reconciliation and justice" continues Chandraguptha Thenuwara.

“Hope” ~ 48”x60”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2011

“This is not a White Van” ~ 48”x60”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2011

“This is not a White Flag” ~ 48”x60” Acrylic on Canvas, 2011

Paying tribute to the people who lost their lives in war

Casinopolis,Thorns, Guns, Four Stars,Waiting for Words,Three Heads and Untitled ~ Ink on Paper,2011

Viewers spend longer time in front the large installation

Silence and speechlessness led to the feeling of absence and loss

“This is not a White Flag” ~ 48”x60” Acrylic on Canvas, 2011 and “This is not a White Van” ~ 48”x60”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2011

The installation attracted more art lovers

The viewer walk without a word

The imagination soars in the gallery

This is due to..... ~ 36”x48”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2011