For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Chris Kamalendran
A conference organized by a group of non-governmental organisations and intellectuals in Jaffna to discuss development in the north and east over the weekend was called off yesterday, after Jaffna Mayor Yogeshwari Patkunaraja cancelled the booking for the hall at the last minute.
The participants were already in Jaffna for the conference to be held at the Library Auditorium which comes under the purview of the Municipal Council when they were informed by the Mayor on Friday that the venue could not be released as they had a ‘staff meeting’.
The organizers – Home for Human Rights (HHR) and the Jaffna based Cintanaikoodam (think tank) consisting of academics were to hold discussions on the topic ‘Post-May 19, Development in Sri Lanka’s North and East – Whose Development and at What Cost’.
HHR Executive Director Sherine Xavier told the Sunday Times they had booked the hall on December 3 and on Friday when a representative went to make the payment for the hall, Municipal Commissioner M.S. Sarvanabhawan said they could not release the hall as they were having a meeting.
“We cannot understand why they did not inform us earlier that the hall was not available,” she said.
But Mayor Patkunaraja said she had not been informed that the hall had been allocated for the conference and she had already arranged for the staff meetings over the weekend.
Two days prior to the cancellation, signatures had been obtained from the staff that they should attend a meeting which had been fixed for yesterday. A meeting of 30 staff members took place for about two hours yesterday while no meetings have been arranged for today.
One of the lawyers due to attend the conference said the sudden cancellation of the booking was seen as a move to prevent the event taking place.
Among those who were due to attend the event were Prof. S.K. Sitrampalam, Professor Emeritus – University of Jaffna; Prof. V.P. Sivanathan, Head of Department of Economics, University of Jaffna; Rev. J. Selvarajah – Secretary, NGO Council, Rt. Rev. (Dr.) S. Jebanesan, former Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India; Prof. S. Krishnarajah, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Jaffna; Dr. T. Gadambanathan – Visiting Psychiatrist – Teaching Hospital, Batticaloa; Dr. Murali Vallipuranathan (Jaffna), PGD (Population Studies), MSc. (Community Medicine), MD (Community Medicine) – Board Certified Specialist Community Physician; Prof. M. Sinnathamby – Head, Department of Law, University of Jaffna; Prof. R. Sivachandran, former dean, faculty of arts/head, Dept. of Geography, University of Jaffna; Mr. S. Raveendran – Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Jaffna; N. Vithyatharan, former editor, Sudar Oli (Colombo) and Uthayan (Jaffna) and Dr. Nishan de Mel, Director, Verité Research.