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Suspects in journalist's stabbing in Bingiriya turn themselves in; IFJ bemoans police inaction

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Attacks continue on journalists in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is angered by the attack on journalist and correspondent for Sinhala language TV channel SIRASA, U.S.A. Bandara, on January 16, by a Sri Lankan politician.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, reports that Mr. Bandara was threatened by a ruling party politician and a village officer at around 7:00am while covering the aftermath of an explosion on a bus in south-west Sri Lanka in Okkampitiya, Monaragala district, an attack blamed on Tamil Tiger rebels which killed at least 27 people.

Mr. Bandara claims he was slapped and abused, with the men saying that he was a government agent and that no one could record footage in the area without their permission. Both men were shouting that SIRASA is an anti-government channel to onlookers.

The FMM, an IFJ affiliate, reported that Mr. Bandara made a complaint to the Buttala police station on January 18. Two other staff from SIRASA who also covered the bomb blast lodged complaints at the same police station on January 19.

The IFJ joins the FMM in condemning the intimidation of and attacks against the media for carrying out their public and professional duties and calls upon the police to investigate immediately.

The IFJ is also concerned by news that those believed responsible for stabbing a Sri Lankan journalist for "Lankadeepa" in Bingiriya, Victor Somaweera, were not arrested until they surrendered to police ten days after the attack.

Three suspects turned themselves in on January 20 and police have reported the suspects are from the Deduruoya, Gadolwake and Thambiwatte areas of the Bingiriya electoral district.

The FMM and IFJ were disturbed that the suspects were not detained by police immediately following the attack, even though Mr. Somaweera was able to identify his perpetrators.

Mr. Somaweera made a complaint to the Bingiriya police station, in north western Sri Lanka, reporting that he was stabbed and threatened on January 10 by an individual who also pointed a pistol at his head. Mr. Somaweera was admitted to the Bingiriya hospital on the same day due to injuries he sustained in the attack.

According to the FMM, the alleged perpetrators have strong connections to those who control illegal river sand mining. Mr. Somaweera had investigated the illegal activities in recent news reports. The FMM believes these reports were the motive for the threats and attack.

Mr. Somaweera told the FMM that an officer in charge of the Bingiriya police station said the suspects thought to be responsible for co-coordinating the attack would be investigated. However, no arrests were made until the attackers turned themselves in.

The suspects will be brought before an identification parade today.

IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said authorities need to send a strong message out to those who attack or threaten media professionals that they will be subject to a thorough investigation and face the necessary consequences, despite their position in society.

"It is disappointing that authorities did not take immediate action to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice," she said.

"In Mr. Somaweera's case, if the attackers had not turned themselves in, they may never have been detained. Only when authorities treat such attacks as urgent will press freedom be taken seriously so that media personnel can work in a free and safe environment."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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