New York, February 14, 2022 – Sri Lankan authorities must conduct an immediate and impartial investigation into the attack on the residence of journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama, release the findings to the public, and hold the perpetrators accountable, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
Around 2 a.m. Monday morning, at least three unidentified armed men arrived at the residence of Samarawickrama, a reporter for the privately owned television channel Hiru TV and host of a YouTube-based talk show Truth With Chamuditha, in the Piliyandala suburb of Colombo, according to multiple news reports, which cited Samarawickrama, security personnel on duty at the residence, and police officials.
The men, who arrived in a white van, shot at the residence, smashed its windows, and threw stones and excrement at the residence, according to those sources. CPJ has repeatedly documented how government actors used white vans to abduct and attack journalists throughout the decades-long civil war, which ended in 2009.
“The attack on Chamuditha Samarawickrama’s residence is eerily reminiscent of the violence that journalists faced during Sri Lanka’s civil war,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Sri Lanka authorities must rectify the nation’s abysmal record of allowing attacks against journalists to go unpunished, hold the perpetrators to account, and ensure Samarawickrama’s safety.”
The men carried weapons to intimidate the guards and gained access to the residence, an unnamed police official told Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding that forensic experts had been called in to conduct an investigation. The three men are seen entering the residence in security footage shared by local newspaper the Daily Mirror.
Samarawickrama told local news website News 1st that he and his wife were asleep and awoken by a loud noise at the time of the attack. CPJ was unable to immediately immediately locate contact information for Samarwickrama or confirm if the journalist was harmed or interacted with the unknown attackers.
Sri Lanka police spokesperson Nihal Thaduwa told the Daily Mirror that three police teams launched an investigation into the incident. Thaduwa did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.
Samarawickrama, who previously served as media director to former President Maithripala Sirisena, has featured criticism of the ruling Rajapaksa family, government corruption, and Sri Lanka police on his talk show Truth With Chamuditha. Last week, Samarawickrama conducted an interview with a former police officer who fled the country after allegedly facing persecution under the government of the former president and current prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the elder brother of current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Two weeks ago, police opened an investigation into Samarawickrama and Hiru TV, and accused the journalist of conducting a polemic against law enforcement and making a false complaint of a threat to his life, according to AFP.