The Death of a News Paper-LTTE Terrorism in North America

THE DEATH OF A NEWSPAPER - LTTE TERRORISM IN NORTH AMERICA

[Sunday Times of 7th April 1996]

D.B.S. Jeyaraj, editor of the Toronto based Tamil magazine, Muncharie, says he has been compelled to suspend publication because of threats from the LTTE. The real blow was the scaring off of advertisers, he says adding that the April 1st issue was the last publication.

"I published an open letter in English outlining the problem briefly in the Muncharie", says Mr. Jeyaraj who was one-time attached to Island and The Sunday Times newspapers here. The following are excerpts from his open letter:

"Do not go gentle into that good night...Rage, rage against the dying of the light" (Dylan Thomas 1914-53)

Dylan Thomas is one of my favorite poets. The above mentioned lines from his "Do not go gentle" are quite close to my heart. These lines have been to some extent an exalting inspiration to me whenever faced with great difficulties or problems. There are many instances in the past where I have raged and fought against the dying of that light.

Recalling these lines in the present context is a painful experience. For your favorite Tamil weekly "Muncharie" is about to go into that good night. Despite raging against the falling of the light the Muncharie will cease publication with effect from today. It is with a sense of deep regret that I am forced to make this announcement. Circumstances beyond our control have compelled us to suspend publication. The reason for this painful decision is public knowledge as far as the Canadian Tamil community is concerned.

The intention is to make the Canadian mainstream aware of how a small, ethnic newspaper striving to maintain the finer traditions of journalism has been ruthlessly suppressed by a neofascist intolerant organization claiming to fight for the Tamil cause. Our fundamental, inalienable right to the freedom of expression has been brutally violated in Canada, a land of hope and freedom. The Muncharie has been penalized by the Canadian World Tamil Movement (a branch/front organization of the Liberation tigers of Thamil Eelam) for the "offence" of adhering faithfully to the dictum "comment is free but facts are sacred" as pronounced by the legendary Charles Prestwich Scott in the "Manchester Guardian". Let me then briefly record the sequence of events pertaining to this sorry state of affairs.

I became the editor of "Senthamarai" a Tamil weekly in October 1990. In June 1993 the "Muncharie" was started. It began as a fortnightly and soon became a full-fledged weekly in January 1994. My wife and I are the joint owners of the Muncharie.

Editorial stance

My entry into Canadian Tamil journalism came at a time when two diametrically opposed publications were ruling the Tamil roost in Canada. One was the pro-LTTE "Ulaga Thamilar". The other was the anti-LTTE "Thayagam". Under my editorial direction both the "Senthamarai" and the "Muncharie" followed a middle way. I did not attempt to take sides but merely reported the facts. We performed a dual role. On the one hand we disseminated news concerning events in Sri Lanka while on the other we published news about events in Canada so as to help the process of integration.

Our non-partisan editorial policy was greeted suspiciously by both the pro-LTTE and anti-LTTE camps. In a journalistic climate where "newspapers" were narrowly viewed as either "pro" or "anti" our editorial stance became naturally suspect. But it is to the eternal credit of our readers that they were quick to appreciate our position.

Mahathaya affair

The "Muncharie's" reputation as a source of credible and authentic news was sky-high. Among our many scoops was the noteworthy episode about the arrest of the LTTE deputy leader Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya on charges of treason by the Tiger Chief Prabhakaran. The exhaustive account appearing in the Muncharie was reproduced and reprinted by Indian and Sri Lankan newspapers. A prominent Sinhala editor quipped thus "You are writing in Canada about what is happening in Jaffna. The Indian newspapers are reproducing them and we are reprinting them". The LTTE itself was forced to break its silence and issue a statement admitting the truth about Mahathaya after the "Muncharie's" disclosure.

Our journalistic progress in Canada was not without its problems. The Tigers and their supporters were not happy about our position. Whenever news items unfavorable to the LTTE appeared in the "Muncharie" there were many personal messages either threatening or entreating. These calls would request me not to publish anything that was perceived as harmful to Tiger interests or would reprimand me for publishing damaging news. My reply was that although I emphathise with the Tamil predicament in my personal capacity I would not suppress or distort the news in my professional capacity as a journalist. I received many threats and abusive telephone calls from anonymous persons. I dismissed these lightly as "occupational hazards". But, in 1993, I was assaulted by a gang of four Tamil youths outside the Ontario Science Center. They accused me of writing against the LTTE. Using rods and baseball bats they broke my leg. I was hospitalized. I also received head injuries. Nevertheless I continued with my journalism which was more a vocation rather than a profession to me.

My relations with the LTTE began to deteriorate after a heated argument over the telephone with Lawrence Thilagar the International spokesman of the LTTE base in Paris. Taking umbrage at some news items in the "Muncharie" he accused me of working against LTTE and labeled me a "traitor". I told him that if there was a choice between the general interests of the Tamil community at large and the particular interests of the LTTE as a movement then I would be on the side of the community and not the Tigers. I also told him to be careful about calling others "traitors" and that Thilagar himself may be labeled as a traitor like Mahathaya one day.

Three other members of the WTM have at different times called me directly identified themselves as W.T.M. office bearers and tried to intimidate me into publishing material favorable to the Tigers. They are Uma Maheswaran, George and Mathagal Kannan. After rejecting these pressures I rang the W.T.M. Co-ordinator Suresh and complained about these attempts.

Positive change

The advent of Chandrika Kumaratunga on the Sri Lankan political horizon brought about a positive change. Many Tamils including myself felt that a negotiated settlement to the ethnic question was on the cards. Earlier we felt that war had been thrust upon the Tamils. The Muncharie welcomed Chandrika's victory. Also in my weekly political column I urged that the LTTE should grasp the hand of friendship extended by her firmly and resolve the problem through dialogue and discussion. These sentiments were endorsed by a vast majority of our readers. Pro-Tiger elements however did not like these views. This in turn made me realize belatedly perhaps that one had to distinguish the existence of a distinct difference between Tiger and Tamil interests.

In April 1995 Mr. Mariathasan, the LTTE representative in Montreal, turned up at my home unexpectedly with a mutual friend. He said he had returned from Sri Lanka after a prolonged stay. He claimed that he had met with the LTTE leader Prabhakaran and had a lengthy discussion about the Canadian situation. Mr. Mariathasan said that Mr. Prabhakaran had told him that he (Prabhakaran) had great regard for me as a journalist but unhappy about some of my writings. "Don't lose the regard the leader has for you," said Mr. Mariathasan.

Shortly after this meeting the LTTE broke the cease fire and began fighting. The manner in which the ceasefire was broken and the reasons given for it left much to be desired, while admonishing Chandrika for her inefficient handling of matters. I also criticized the LTTE leadership for its hasty decision. I said that Prabhakaran will have to act with greater responsibility if he wanted to live up to the title "National Leader" foisted upon him by LTTE supporters.

What I tried to drive home was that Mr. Prabhakaran should have resorted to war only after exhausting all avenues of a peaceful settlement. Notwithstanding her inadequacies I genuinely felt that Chandrika Kumaratunga offered a way out from the military quagmire for Sri Lanka in general and the Tamils in particular. Although events have taken a sad turn for the worse I firmly believe that Chandrika still remains the best bet for the Tamils among the present crop of Sinhala political leaders.

Radio commentary

My views were first articulated over the Tamil radio. The same commentary was printed in the paper. This particular commentary criticizing Prabhakaran raised a hornets nest. I received several abusive anonymous calls. The broadcaster responsible for the radio program also received the same.

He began advising me not to criticize the Tigers. I disagreed and told him that if and when necessary I would do so. Since I did not want to jeopardize his radio show I suspended my weekly commentary voluntarily.

In the meantime a friendly WTM volunteer telephoned me in an agitated manner. He said people were pressurizing Suresh, the WTM Co-ordinator, to take action against me for the radio talk. The friendly volunteer's advice was that I should delete the offending portion when I reprinted the commentary and avoid problems.

Looking back I think that was the turning point. I sat with a red pen (not the proverbial blue) in front of my copy. Suddenly something snapped. These were genuine comments that I believed in whole-heartedly. Why should I delete them now? I asked myself. To say one thing on the air and delete them in print was not the right thing to do. I decided to publish the radio commentary undeleted.

I also had a premonition. I felt that the war was going to affect the Tigers drastically and by extension the Tamils. Although there was a lot of euphoria about initial Tiger successes in the Tincomalee harbor and against the AVRO planes I felt that it was only a matter of time before the Chandrika Government got its act together. While basically opposed to the concept of war I had always felt that the Tamils were on moral high ground in this conflict. The Tamils had been constantly betrayed by Sinhala leaders in the past. The hand of friendship extended by Tamils had been spurned by successive Sinhala regimes and war was thrust upon the Tamils. But today the roles had been reversed. Sinhala overtures for peace in the form of Chandrika had been rejected. Unlike the Banda-Chelva, Dudley-Chelva pacts the Chandrika-Prabha agreement had been flagrantly violated by the Tamil side. The Trincomalee harbor attack was a blatant betrayal. I felt that the Chandrika government unlike its predecessors was justified in pursuing war. The Sri Lankan soldier would be fighting a just war as opposed to his Tiger counterpart. I was sad and depressed.

As weeks passed the Sri Lankan forces began gaining the upper hand. The Tigers began suffering reversals. Even as we reported these events our volume of anonymous calls began to increase. They ranged from death-threats, threats that my other leg would be broken, etc. to threats of an explicit sexual nature. Some were amusing too. One such call was "If five soldiers are killed write 50 were killed. If five Tigers are killed write 0.05 Tigers were killed". All these calls were from mobile or public telephones. They were impossible to trace. The highest was in November when we received 37 abusive calls on a single day.

Postman

Despite the anonymous telephone calls and leaflets we continued the "Muncharie" under the same editorial guidelines. When operations Thunder strike and Sun Rays were conducted the Tigers began suffering more reversals. The Muncharie like the postman who brought bad news was targeted. The expectation was that we should like the "Eelanadu" distort the news in favor of the Tigers. The "Eelanadu" for instance said that the 180 killed in Weli-Oya were not Tigers but innocent Tamil youths killed by the Army in Batticaloa and dumped in Weli-Oya. Two days after the preposterous claim made by Eelanadu the LTTE press release admitted that the persons killed were indeed LTTE cadres.

After the violent campaign many shops refused to sell the Muncharie through fear. I contacted Suresh Manickavasagam the WTM Co-ordinator by telephone. He is currently a detinue at the Don jail. When I told him of the problem he said the WTM had nothing to do with this. He asked me to contact Perin Inpanayagam the president of the WTM. He also said the WTM would issue a statement.

Subsequently the WTM issued a vague statement saying it had nothing to do with the ban of newspapers and no newspaper had been banned by it. On the strength of that vague assurance I published a notice in the Muncharie that I expected the problem to cease because the WTM had issued a statement. The WTM responded by publishing a notice in their "Ulaga Thamilar" paper that no such announcement had been made by them and that the Muncharie was trying to tarnish the WTM. My letter to WTM President Inpanayagam also went unanswered. In the letter I asked WTM leaders including Mathagal Kannan to personally visit shops and convince them that they had no part in this.

Under these circumstances we have no choice other than to deactivate our business and suspend publication of the Muncharie. We lay the blame squarely on the WTM for this sad situation. The WTM which claims to fight for the freedom of the Tamils has cruelly suppressed the freedom of expression of a Tamil newspaper. Ironically this has happened not in the Tiger controlled areas of Sri Lanka but in the democratic state of Canada.

Earlier I had written to the WTM challenging them to a public debate in English or Tamil on the Muncharie affair. I challenged them to prove that I was a traitor and stated that I would prove that it was the LTTE which was the traitor to the Tamil cause. I also told them that they could import Ruthrakumar, Vasantharajah, Thilakar or Satyendra if they did not have debaters here. I take this opportunity to reiterate my challenge to the WTM.







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