For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
(Text of a statement issued by the Sri Lanka Journalists Trade Union)
Journalists from several media institutions were subjected to a brutal assault while covering a protest by villagers seeking clean drinking water in the Weliweriya area in Gampaha.
The protest by villagers in Rathupaswela demanding clean drinking water was attacked by military personnel supported by the police last evening. A person was killed while many others including media personnel were injured in the attack.
Journalists and camera crew who were covering the protest were prevented from covering the clash between the villagers and the security forces by masked military personnel.
Photojournalist of the Ada newspaper Chanuka Kulasekera was assaulted and his camera equipment was damaged when he was attacked by the military personnel. Kulasekera was admitted to the Gampaha hospital for treatment.
Also, Lankadeepa journalist Ms. Deepa Adhikari who was also covering the protest in Weliweriya was injured when military men had attacked the media.
She was assaulted by a soldier with a pole when she was on a roof trying to escape the onslaught. Despite her injuries, Adhikari was unable to receive any medical attention until around 9.30 p.m. She had to stay from 6 p.m. till around 9.30 p.m. to escape from the military attack.
The camera of the Rivira provincial correspondent was also taken by the military and the photographs were deleted.
The journalists who were attacked last evening claim that they were subjected to such harassment even when they have identified themselves as media personnel covering the event. The military personnel have at the time referred to the media personnel as “dogs in the media.
” The Sri Lanka Journalists’ Trade Union (SLJTU) vehemently condemns this dastardly act of the security forces personnel. Journalists like any other professionals in the country have the right to engage in their profession – a right that has been constitutionally guaranteed to every Sri Lankan.
It is discomforting to note the continuous increase in the attacks on the media and the attempt to suppress the freedom of expression.
We, the SLJTU call upon the government to ensure the safety of media personnel and to grant them the freedom to engage in their professional duties. We also call upon the defence establishment to take the necessary action against the security forces personnel who have acted in violation of the military discipline by attacking the media.