24th February 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is appalled to learn of treatment meted out by a Senior Inspector of the Sri Lankan Police to a journalist who was on the scene of a bomb blast in Colombo. On 23rd February, Sugath Dharmapriya, a news producer of the Derana TV channel covering the bomb blast on a bus in Mount Lavinia, a suburb of Colombo, was abused and assaulted by a Senior Inspector of the Mount Lavinia Police, Mahesh Perera.
The FMM unequivocally condemns this reprehensible behaviour by the Senior Police Officer.
Inspector Mahesh Perera had first abused Sugath Dharmapriya by throwing him out on to the street, loudly proclaiming that the journalist had to be summarily chased out from the scene. Inspector Mahesh Perera’s contemptible action forced the journalist to leave scene for his safety. The FMM is aware of TV footage of this incident that serves as evidence of the senior Police Inspector’s incredible behaviour. What is even worse, the Mount Lavinia Police refused to file a complaint lodged by Sugath Dharmapriya on the incident on the grounds that they do not entertain complaints against their superior officers! The journalist was forced to lodge his complaint at the Special Crimes section of the Mirihana Police Station.
We note with dismay that this same senior Police Officer verbally abused another TV journalist, Aravinda Sri Nissanka a month ago and detained him for over two hours without any valid reason.
Inspector Mahesh Perera’s manic behaviour is a telling marker of the significant deterioration of law and order in Sri Lanka. It is of serious concern to the FMM that the Police now openly and with total impunity undermine and threaten the safety of journalists who seek to report in the public interest on events that have a bearing on national security, war, peace and governance. At a time when media personnel and journalists are under growing fear for their lives in a country that has been repeatedly noted as one the most dangerous places for journalists in the world, actions by those such as Inspector Mahesh Perera demonstrate quite clearly the inability and unwillingness of State authorities to respect and strengthen media freedom.
In light of the complete silence by the Inspector General of Police to these concerns repeatedly raised by the FMM over a period of time, we ask all local and international democratic forces to impress upon the State and the Police that this behaviour is intolerable and that stern and urgent action needs to be taken against all those who undermine fundamental rights including the freedom of expression.
The FMM also requests the National Police Commission to look into these incidents as a matter of priority.