Several journalists were assaulted while covering the court appearance of the Chief of Defense Staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne at the Fort Magistrate’s Court, Colombo, Sri Lanka on November 28. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka in strongly condemning the attack on the journalists; and demands immediate action by the authorities to arrest and punish the attackers.
Several photojournalists and cameramen who were at the court to cover the case were attacked by several men who arrived on motorcycles. The journalists were also threatened by the group not to record or take photographs of Wijegunarathne.
Indika Handuwala, a photojournalist with The Sunday Morning newspaper, was assaulted when he attempted to take a photograph of Wijegunaratne leaving court by his security. They also attempted to push other journalists aside and an officer punched Handuwala in the chest. Police on duty at the court had then detained the security officer who assaulted Handuwala and recorded a statement over the incident.
Wijeguneratne appeared in court after warrants for his arrest were issued. He is accused of protecting the main suspect, a naval intelligence officer who allegedly murdered 11 young men in 2009. The court remanded him in custody until December 5.
The commanding officer in the Sri Lankan Navy Wijeguneratne, in December 2016, assaulted Roshan Gunasekera, a local correspondent for The Island and Divaina dailies, while the journalist was reporting navy action to open the Hambontota port blocked by protesting port workers. Wijeguneratne apologized for his act after a judiciary decision.
C Dodawatta, the FMM convener, said: “In a democratic society, it is vital to hold professional journalistic reporting which is a right without constraints to a journalist. The authorities should refrain from violating such democratic rights and enabling an environment for such criminal acts. The FMMurges all relevant authorities to conduct a special investigation and expedite a fair trial to protect the dignity and enhance the safety of professional journalists.”
The IFJ said: “The IFJ condemns the assault on journalists in the Colombo court premises. The journalists were performing their professional responsibilities of collecting information of public interest and attack on them is a violation of their rights and press freedom. The IFJ demands that the culprits be arrested and punished; and the authorities ensure that such incident does not happen in future.”