By Dinitha Rathnayake
Eleven journalists attached to three media outlets, namely TV Derana, News First and Sky News, attacked by the Police while covering the protests in the country last Saturday (9).
The Police had attacked journalists near Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence in Colombo 7, and during the protest at Chatham Street.
Reporters and camera crew of Sri Lanka’s News First television network were taken to hospital after being beaten by Police in front of Wickremesinghe’s residence.
According to News First, eight of its journalists were assaulted, including staff reporter Sarasi Pieris, cameraman Varuna Sampath, U.D. Sindujan from the Tamil news division, and Janitha Mendis from the online news desk.
Moments after the attack, fellow journalists rushed to the scene, and they too were obstructed by security forces personnel.
Lahiru Chamara and Pradeep Sanjeewa Wickramasinghe who report for TV Derana, and Gayan Wickramasinghe, who reports for Sky News, were also assaulted.
Speaking to The Morning, Lahiru Chamara said they were attacked by security personnel before the attack on News First journalists took place.
“We were covering the protest in front of the PM’s residence and security personnel assaulted us.”
Gayan Wickramasinghe, speaking to The Morning, said his camera and other pieces of equipment were damaged in the attack.
Pradeep Sanjeewa Wickramasinghe, speaking to The Morning, said he was having breathing difficulties after experiencing more than 22 tear gas attacks in Chatham Street.
A large group of Police Special Task Force (STF) officers surrounded and attacked the journalists with batons, despite knowing that they were media personnel and the journalists’ pleadings to not be attacked, in front of the PM’s residence.
Both Lahiru Chamara and Gayan Wickramasinghe were admitted to the Colombo National Hospital due to injuries.
Meanwhile, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Police is handling the assault on the News First journalists.
Speaking to The Morning, Police Spokesperson Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) and Attorney-at-Law Nihal Thalduwa stated that the unit is currently recording the statements of those involved in the incident.
He also said that disciplinary action will be taken against SSP Romesh Liyanage, who took steps to order the assault on six News First journalists.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) has been instructed to take immediate action to conduct an investigation into the incident as well.
During a tense situation opposite the Prime Minister’s residence, the Sri Lanka Police STF attacked four News First journalists who were covering the ongoing protests.
The attack was carried out by the Sri Lanka Police and the Police STF close to the private residence of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Eleven journalists were admitted to the Colombo National hospital last Saturday with minor injuries.
A total of 105 people were admitted to the Colombo National Hospital last Saturday; while most of them were discharged, one of the protestors remains in critical condition.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s office expressed regret over the assault on journalists by the security personnel.
“Freedom of media is paramount to democracy in Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister requests both the security forces and the protestors to act with restraint to prevent any violence and ensure the safety of the public,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.