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Regional officials threaten, assault broadcast journalist, forcibly seize his equipment

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 16 July 2007 FMM press release:

Assault on Sirasa Provincial correspondent

The FMM has been informed by the Polonnaruwa Provincial Journalists Association that B. A. Wijerathna Podibanda, the Aralaganvila correspondent for the broadcasting station MTV/SIRASA, was threatened and assaulted by officials from the Mahaweli Authority. The incident occurred on Saturday, 14 July 2007.

Wijerathna was assaulted when he went to the Araganvila Children's Park to capture the arrangements made to sell the park's land. Although he showed his media accreditation card, Mahaweli officials assaulted him and took some of his equipment by force. He documented some of these incidents on film.

This incident represents a clear violation of the people's right to information and journalists' right to cover public interest stories. The FMM condemns the assault on Wijerathna and deplores the inaction of the police in this case.

On a previous occasion, the pathetic situation of the Children's Park was reported by Wijerathna on the "Action TV" segment of the MTV/SIRASA news broadcast.

After the assault, Wijerathna lodged a complaint at the Aralaganvila police station against the Mahaweli officials who had threatened and assaulted him. The police have detained some of the suspects but the FMM is disappointed with the regional manager's partiality in this incident.

Investigative reporting on corruption is becoming a dangerous occupation for provincial correspondents because of the dirty alliance between politicians, high officials and law enforcement officials.

The FMM calls upon all relevant authorities to take immediate steps to hold an independent inquiry and punish the perpetrators of this anti-democratic crime.

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