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Political thugs attack television crew, damage vehicle and camera, severely beat driver

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 24 May 2008 FMM press release:

Sirasa TV crew attacked and their equipment destroyed

24th May 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The Free Media Movement (FMM) was shocked and dismayed to see visuals of a SIRASA TV media vehicle and television camera smashed by thugs with party political affiliations on 19 May 2008, the day of a significant Buddhist holiday in Sri Lanka. All the windows and the windscreen of the vehicle were in smithereens after thugs repeatedly struck them with the crew's professional grade television camera. The crew consisted of journalist and producer Lalith Rajapaksha, cameraman Chanadana Amarasinghe and driver P.P. Kostha, who had to be hospitalized as a result of the severe beating he received from the assailants.

Sri Lanka has not seen this nature of attack against a media crew by any group in the recent past.

According to the complaint made to the Kiribathgoda police, on 19 May the Sirasa late night crew were filming pandols (illuminated decorations) and lanterns erected for the Buddhist festival Vesak in the town of Kiribathgoda. When the crew was getting ready to film a pandol close to the market, a gang surrounded them and belligerently demanded they stop filming the pandol and leave the area immediately. Suddenly, however, the gang stopped the crew, saying that they had to seek the advice of a Minister. After making a telephone call, the gang asked the driver to move the vehicle to a different location. They then siezed the camera, smashed it on the ground and hit the vehicle windows with it. The crew heard the gang talking among themselves about setting fire to the vehicle with the crew inside. Sensing their lives to be at risk, the crew got out of the vehicle and mingled with other people present to view the religious decorations.

According to the crew, this incident took place as police were looking on from close quarters. The FMM finds this behaviour of police abhorrent, and condemns their unwillingness to intervene and protect the lives and property of the journalists.

Kiribathgoda town is part of Kelaniya constituency, where the infamous Minister of Labour, Mervyn Silva, acts as the violently self-styled organizer for the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). In the past, Silva has openly warned Sirasa media personnel not to visit "his" area to cover any event, and said if they were to do so, he would not hesitate to use his weapons and hands against them.

The FMM strongly suspects that Silva instigated this attack on the television crew. The Sirasa TV network has consistently covered the egregious violations of media freedom by the Minister, of which there have been many in the past.

We urgently demand an impartial investigation into this incident and once again ask the government to reign in the pathologically miscreant Minister. Failure to do this will only strengthen the fact and perception that the regime aids and abets the violation of media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of movement, all of which are basic human rights.

For further information on Silva's previous attacks on the press, see:

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