Sri Lankan journalist Freddy Gamage back in hospital, still under threat

Back on June 3, we called for “a thorough investigation into an attack” on Freddy Gamage, a muckraking editor and blogger for (and in Sinhala). At the time, the government promised on its official website that it “would never again allow media suppression, which prevailed during the past, to reoccur.” Prime Mister Ranil Wickremesinghe personally and quickly condemned the June 2 assault, according to press reports.

In an email message today, Gamage told me that he’s back in the hospital, dealing with the after-effects of the attack — dizziness, pain in his ears, and blurred vision. His condition is bad enough that he couldn’t make it to a court hearing today, though his lawyer represented him. Two men wearing helmets with full face masks assaulted him with a large wooden pole and pursued him back to the municipal building where the council meeting he had been covering had just taken place, according to the government’s June 3 statement. There’s a full explainer (at 13:45) on Sri Lankan state television of the assault.

Two suspects were taken into custody, but no further arrests have been made. The suspects were denied bail today ­– “Attacking a professional journalist is not a small thing,” the magistrate said in handing down his ruling, according to Meepura.

But who told the men to attack Gamage in the first place? He feels the local police aren’t up to the job of carrying out a full investigation, given the state of local politics: “We are trying to pressure the government to hand over the investigations to the CID [Criminal Investigation Department],” which handles more serious crimes, he said.

Gamage said he believes the attackers are linked to local politicians in the town where the attack took place–Negombo, north of the capital Colombo–who he had angered in a series of articles for Meepura about alleged illegal property deals and corruption. He said he had been warned to back down from the reporting, but hadn’t.

Gamage is well connected. He is the convener of the Action Committee for Media Freedom, a platform for journalists’ organizations from around the country, as well as head of the Professional Web Journalists Association. His story is being well covered (both sympathetically and less so) in Sri Lanka’s fractious media. But he asked for international support in dealing with his situation.

With no further arrests apparently forthcoming, Gamage has taken a cautious, realistic approach. “In the mean time I need to give more concern over my security,” because whoever it is that is after him knows he will keep reporting, and he is convinced they will keep coming after him, Gamage said in our email exchange.