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Reporters covering attack on opposition politician assaulted

(FMM/IFEX) - 8 December 2010 - The Free Media Movement (FMM) unequivocally condemns the 7 December 2010 attack on journalists at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and views it as yet another serious blow to media freedom and the democratic right to impartial reporting.

Lanka E News journalist Shantha Wijesuriya and Sirasa TV airport correspondent Premalal were attacked by a group of persons purported to be BIA employees. Wijesuriya suffered serious injuries and had to seek treatment at a hospital.

According to reports, the journalists were assaulted by a group of BIA employees, allegedly under government orders, while covering an attack on Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne, leader of the New Left Front, and his supporters. Dr. Karunaratne was returning from a visit to the United Kingdom where he delivered several lectures. His speeches were earlier criticised by ruling party members as "traitorous".

In a democracy, opposition politicians have the same right as pro-government politicians to express their opinions and ideas. Assaulting someone for the political ideology he upholds is a hallmark of a tyrannical regime. Dr. Karunaratne and his supporters were assaulted for their political stance. The FMM, while deeming the attack on Dr. Karunaratne, at no less a place than a State-run establishment like the international airport, a serious violation of his rights, believes the attack on the two journalists covering the incident to be a well co-ordinated action aimed at ensuring the media remain silent.

The initial attack on the journalists took place in a high security area of the airport with the police looking on. The assailants later followed the journalists' van as they were attempting to leave and renewed their attack with iron rods and clubs, injuring the journalists and causing extensive damage to the vehicle. The assailants also seized the journalists' cameras.

FMM believes that the systematic manner in which the attack was carried out is part of a well-planned attempt at preventing journalists from reporting the attack on Dr. Karunaratne and his supporters.

The incident highlights the serious threat to media freedom in Sri Lanka - on the right to express and report dissenting views as well the right of Sri Lankan citizens to enjoy impartial reporting. It also shows that the government, rather than promoting media freedom, is endorsing its suppression by assisting and condoning attacks on journalists.

FMM calls on all citizens who treasure the freedoms that democracy provides to rise against the injustice.

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