A police officer is seen in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on August 6, 2020. Journalists were recently attacked and harassed throughout the country. (Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

At least 5 Sri Lankan journalists assaulted while reporting in October

At least five Sri Lankan journalists were assaulted and hospitalized during the course of their reporting in October 2020, according to news reports and journalists who spoke to CPJ.

On October 3, a group of people in Moneragala district, in southeast Sri Lanka, assaulted Indunil Wijenayake, a reporter for Derana TV, while he was covering alleged illegal sand mining in the area, according to news reports and a statement from Free Media Movement, a local press freedom organization.

Wijenayake was admitted to the local Monaragala Hospital following the attack, according to that statement, which did not specify the extent of his injuries.

Police are investigating the incident and arrested two suspects who were later released on bail, according to Groundviews, a blog that publishes citizens’ reporting on political issues. Wijenayake’s camera was also damaged during the assault, according to that report.

On October 11, in Trincomalee district, in northeast Sri Lanka, a group of people assaulted M. H. Yusuf, a correspondent for the Independent Television Network, while he reporting on an accident, according to that Groundviews report and the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, a local press freedom organization. Neither report specify the nature of the accident he was covering or the extent of his injuries.

Yusuf’s camera was broken during the assault, Ruki Fernando, an advisor to INFORM, a human rights organization in Sri Lanka familiar with the journalist’s case, told CPJ via email. He was hospitalized after the assault, according to a report by the Tamil Guardian, a local news website.

According to Groundviews, three people have been arrested in connection to the incident.

On October 12, in Mullaitivu district, in northern Sri Lanka, four men on motorcycles stopped Tamil Guardian correspondents Kanapathipallai Kumanan and Shanmugam Thavaseelan while they were working on a story about alleged illegal deforestation in the area, according to news reports and their employer.

Kumanan and Thavaseelan were taking photographs and asked the men about the alleged deforestation; the men accused them of harming the village and of trespassing and theft, and then attacked the reporters with clubs and wood tools while filming them, and threatened to kill them, according to those reports.

The men hit Kumanan on the head and injured his nose, and broke two of Thavaseelan’s teeth, Kumanan told CPJ via messaging app. He added that both journalists were hospitalized for one week following the attack. The attackers deleted the correspondents’ footage and also removed their camera memory cards, according to those reports by the Free Media Movement and Tamil Guardian.

Police detained four suspects in connection to the assault, one of whom was later released on bail, news reports said.

On October 19, in Mirigama, about 35 miles from Colombo, two motorcyclists attacked Manoj Edirisinghe, a correspondent with Sirasa TV’s Newsfirst, while he was returning home from work, according to Groundviews, NewsFirst, and other reports.

Edirisinghe suffered injuries to his face and eye and was treated at Mirigama Base Hospital for several days, according to Groundviews. He has lodged a complaint with police and a suspect has been detained, according Groundviews and the news reports.

CPJ emailed Derana TV, the Independent Television Network, and NewsFirst for comment on their staffers’ conditions, but did not immediately receive any replies.

The Inspector General of Police did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment.