Attack on journalists at BIA, State sanctioned attempt at suppressing media freedom

by Seetha Ranjanee and Sunil Jayasekara

(December 09, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Free Media Movement (FMM) unequivocally condemns Tuesday’s (7th December) attack on journalists at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and views it as yet another serious blow to media freedom, ethical and 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 had been assaulted when they were covering an attack on Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne, Leader of the New Left Front, and his supporters, by a group of BIA employees, allegedly under government patronage. Dr. Karunaratne was returning from a visit to the United Kingdom where he delivered several lectures. His speeches was 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 incident aimed at ensuring the media remains silent.

The attack on the journalists had initially taken place at the high security environs of the airport with the police, tasked with maintaining law and order, looking on. Later, the assailants, (in another vehicle) had followed the van in which the journalist were attempting to leave, and renewed the attack with iron rods and clubs, injuring the journalists and causing extensive damage to the vehicle. The assailants had also removed the cameras from the journalists. FMM believes the systematic manner in which the attack was carried out, is 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 and the right to express / report on dissenting views as well right to impartial reporting. It also showcases that the government rather than promoting media freedom is endorsing its suppression by assisting and condoning attacks on journalists. FMM calls up all citizens who treasure the freedoms that democracy entails to rise against the injustice.

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