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Journalists harassed, attacked as Sri Lankan army cracks down on peaceful protesters

Screenshot from a video entitled
Screenshot from a video entitled "Army breaks up protest", posted on the "Daily Mirror" newspaper's Facebook page

Daily Mirror/Facebook

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its partners and affiliates in Sri Lanka, the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Sri Lanka Journalists' Association (SLJA) in strongly condemning an army crackdown on peaceful protests near the western town of Weliweriya which has resulted in the death of three protesters and injuries to no fewer than fifteen journalists.

According to information received from partners in Sri Lanka, peaceful protests were organised by residents of the Rathupaswala village near Weliweriya town of Gampaha district in western Sri Lanka on August 1, 2013, against the contamination of drinking water in the area, possibly aggravated by an industrial unit in their neighbourhood.

According to a statement issued by the SLJA, a senior military officer in command of Sri Lankan army units in the vicinity began issuing warnings to media personnel to vacate the area as the protests began. Journalists were warned against taking photographs and videographing the protests.

Units of the Sri Lankan army then allegedly started firing without any provocation, killing a seventeen-year old schoolboy on the spot and injuring several others. Two among the injured protesters died in a Colombo hospital three days later.

The FMM reports that as they cracked down on the protests, army personnel also turned their attention to journalists who had gathered at the spot, with seeming intent to prevent them recording the incidents. Fifteen journalists were injured and one female journalist had to seek refuge in a village hut for an entire night to escape possible harm.

The SLJA also records a similar pattern of behavior by the army units, who seemed to be specifically targeting media personnel to prevent any possible public record of the events.

The demonstrators, according to the FMM, were attacked from three main points with assault rifles and journalists were marked for special attention along these three points of attack.

At one of the attack points, army personnel forced a photographer from the Ada newspaper, who was recording events from a rooftop to come down, following which he was assaulted. Another photographer had the chip of his camera taken away.

The FMM and SLJA have described this incident as further evidence of the continuing militarisation of post-war Sri Lankan society.

The IFJ supports its partners in their planned campaign to join with other professional and civil society groups to restore democratic governance and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.


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