The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called for immediate disciplinary action to be taken after a group of police officers allegedly assaulted a group of journalists covering a student protest.
IFJ affiliates the Sri Lankan Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and the Free Media Movement Sri Lanka (FMM) reported that five journalists covering the Inter University Students’ Federation demonstration on October 14 in the capital, Colombo, were attacked after they reported police used undue force to break up the protest.
They were assaulted despite having identified themselves as journalists to police after reporting that a group of 25 officers were attacking a single protester.
“The IFJ demands that Sri Lanka’s authorities investigate this gross misuse of violence against journalists who had clearly identified themselves as reporters and not protestors,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
“It is equally concerning that these students – who by all accounts were exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest – have also been targeted in such a way.”
The SLWJA and FMM will protest the attacks with other civil society groups at a rally in Lipton Circus, Colombo at noon on October 19. The protest will call on the Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya and the Secretary of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to investigate the incident and take disciplinary action against any officers found guilty of professional misconduct.
The five journalists injured were: Bingun Menaka Gamage of Lankadeepa; Sandaruwan Yatikinda of Neth FM; Pradeep Dilrukshan from the Daily Mirror; Chamila Karunaratna from Rivira and Subramaniyam Gunaratnam of Sirasa TV.
The students were protesting outside the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education to demand the release of a group of student activists from Sri Lanka’s Peradeniya University, who were imprisoned after booing the Minister of Higher Education S.B. Dissanayake on a recent campus visit. Twenty-one students arrested at the protest will face court on October 29.
While the right to protest and freedom of association are both enshrined in the Sri Lankan constitution, the SLWJA believes police who employ violent tactics do so with the blessing of state authorities.