Police are seen amid protests near the president's residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 8, 2022. Police beat journalists with the broadcaster News First covering the protests. (Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

Police attack News First journalists covering Sri Lanka protests

New York, July 11, 2022 – Sri Lankan authorities should thoroughly and transparently investigate the recent police attack on journalists covering anti-government protests, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On the evening of Saturday, July 9, members of the paramilitary police Special Task Force assaulted a reporting team with the privately owned broadcaster News First covering a protest outside Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residence in the capital city of Colombo, according to a report by CNN and multiple reports by News First.

That evening, demonstrators broke into Wickremesinghe’s residence and set it on fire amid protests over the country’s economic crisis, according to those reports.

On Monday, Special Task Force Senior Superintendent Romesh Liyanage, who ordered police to attack the journalists, was suspended and is facing disciplinary action over the assaults, according to News First and other news reports, which said that authorities are investigating the incident.

“Using paramilitary police to violently prevent journalists from reporting on protests is a crude form of censorship,” said CPJ Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “Sri Lankans have a right to be informed on the political and economic upheaval shaking their country. The security forces must respect that right.”

Police used batons to beat anchors Sarasi Peiris and Judin Sinthujan, camera operator Warun Sampath, and digital correspondent Janith Mendis, according to those reports by News First.

Peiris suffered injuries to her head and back, while Sinthujan, Sampath, and Mendis sustained unspecified “serious” injuries, the broadcaster said. CPJ was unable to immediately determine the extent of their injuries.

The outlet also reported that police fired tear gas at its employees Kalimuttu Chandran, Imesh Sutherland, Chanuka Weerakoon, and Banidu Lokuruge, and attacked them when they attempted to help their injured colleagues. CPJ was unable to immediately determine those employees’ roles at the broadcaster or the extent of any injures they sustained.

CPJ messaged police spokesperson Nihal Thalduwa and emailed the deputy inspector-general of the Colombo police for comment, but did not receive any replies.