Sirasa TV crew attacked and their equipment destroyed

Sirasa TV crew attacked and their equipment destroyed

24th May 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) was shocked and dismayed to see visuals of a SIRASA TV media vehicle and a TV camera smashed by thugs with party political affiliations on 19th May 2008, the day of a significant Buddhist holiday in Sri Lanka. All the windows and the windscreen of the vehicle were in smithereens after repeated blows againt them by the professional grade TV camera of the crew. The crew consisted of journalist Lalith Rajapaksha, a Producer of Sirasa TV Network, cameraman Chanadana Amarasinghe and the driver P.P. Kostha, who had to be hospitalized as a result of severe beating he received from the gang.

Sri Lanka has not seen this nature of attack against a media crew by any group in the recent past.

According to the complaint made to Kiribathgoda police it transpires that on 19th May 2008, the Sirasa late night TV crew were filming pandols and lanterns erected for the Buddhist festival Vesak in the town of Kiribathgoda. When the crew was getting ready to film a pandol close to the market a gang surrounded them, threateningly asked them to stop filming the pandol and to leave the area immediately. Suddenly however, the gang stopped the crew saying that they had to seek the advice of a Minister.  After a phone call to the Minister was made, the gang asked the driver to move the vehicle to a different location. They then snatched the TV camera, smashed it on the ground and hit the vehicle windows with it. The crew heard the gang talking among themselves to set fire to the vehicle with the crew.  Sensing the life threatening danger looming the crew get out of the vehicle and mingled with other people present to see the religious decorations.

What is more incredible is that according to the crew, this incident took place as Police were looking on from close quarters. We find this behaviour of Police abhorrent and condemn their unwillingness to intervene and protect the lives and property of the journalists.

The Kiribathgoda town is part of the Kelaniya constituency where infamous Minister of Labour Mervyn Silva acts as the violently self-styled organizer for the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Mervyn Silva had in the past openly threatened Sirasa media personal to not visit “his” area to cover any event and said if it happens he will not hesitate to use his weapons and his hands against them.

The FMM strongly suspects that the Minister instigated this attack on the TV crew. The Sirasa TV network has consistently covered the egregious violations of media freedom by the Minister, of which there have been many in the past.

We urgently demand an impartial investigation into this incident and once again ask the Government to reign in the pathologically miscreant Minister. Failure to do this will only strengthen the fact and perception that the regime aids and abets the violation of media freedom, the freedom of expression and the freedom of movement that are basic human rights. 

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