Sri Lanka unions condemn violent army attacks

Crowds in Colombo – at least eight media workers have been violently beaten by Sri Lankan security forces

AT LEAST eight media workers were beaten and violently assaulted by security forces and police during live coverage of Saturdays anti-government protest outside Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residence.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Sri Lankan affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), have condemned the brutal attacks and called for a swift investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.

A team of television journalists and crew from Sri Lankan news broadcaster Newsfirst, including Sarasi Pieris, Judin Sinthujan, camera operator Warun Sampath, and Janitha Mendis of Newsfirst Digital, were attacked while broadcasting live during coverage of the anti-government protest at the Prime Minister’s residence at 7.20pm on July 9th.

According to Newsfirst, Mendis had informed the security forces of the live coverage on the outlet’s ‘prime time news bulletin’ before the broadcast.

While live on air, officers assaulted the journalists, with footage showing Commanding Officer of the Police Special Task Force SSP, Romesh Liyanage, giving a signal to troops before the attack.

A team of journalists from Newsfirst, including Kalimuttu Chandran, Imesh Sutherland, Chanuka Weerakoon and Banidu Lokuruge, attempted to rescue their colleagues but were also attacked, with the security forces firing tear gas.

Several of the media workers suffered serious injuries and were taken to Colombo National Hospital.

The recent protests are some of the largest anti-government demonstrations since March 2022, with protestors demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, citing the leadership’s inability to address Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.

On July 8th, the Inspector General of Police announced a police curfew to prevent the protests, however, this was overturned.

Police and security forces were documented firing tear gas continuously at peaceful protestors gathering outside the president’s residence. The building has since been breached, forcing the president and his aides to flee.

The FMM said yesterday: ‘The FMM strongly condemns and deplores the violent assaults on four Sri Lanka’s News first Journalists covering a protest in front of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residence and six journalists who came to rescue them from police personnel from Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force.

‘FMM calls upon the Inspector General of Police, Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators responsible for these brutal attacks.’

The SLWJA said: ‘SLWJA believes that this is not only an assault on journalists but also an assault on people’s right to information.

‘SLWJA, on several occasions, informed the Inspector General of Police regarding various forms of harassment of journalists, and our Association strongly believes that journalists continue to be harassed for failing to act in this regard despite calls for action to prevent a recurrence.

‘Once again, SLWJA urges the Inspector General of Police to intervene to enforce the law against those who assaulted journalists – whatever their rank.’

The IFJ said: ‘The brutal assaults on journalists and media workers during the Sri Lankan protests are a blatant attempt to quash press freedom and freedom of speech.

‘Journalists must be able to report safely and securely, without fear of harassment or violence. The IFJ urges the Sri Lankan authorities to end the intimidation of journalists and the media and bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice immediately.’