28 August 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) notes that students of the Colombo University Medical Faculty harassed and assaulted three journalists and took away three cameras belonging to them. This incident iccured when journalist Yamuna Harshani and photojournalist Janaka Galappaththi of the daily Lankadeepa newspaper were obtaining opinions from the students on the on-going boycott of examination paper-marking by teacher’s Unions. There was no any provocation or exchange of any words before the journalists were assaulted by some of the students. TV journalist Dushantha Manoj was also assaulted when he arrived on the scene when he received a call from the journalists who were assaulted asking him to cover the incident.
The journalists told to the FMM that they could identify if called upon to do so the medical students who assaulted them. All three journalists lodged complaints at the Cinnamon Garden Police Station soon after the incident.
The FMM condemns this assault. It is very unfortunate that students resorted to violence, without any provocation, against journalists who were simply doing their duty in reporting an important social issue. At the same time, we note that this assault took place in front of two police officers, who had done nothing to stop the students.
The police later recovered the three cameras taken snatched by medical students. The FMM demand that the police make public the measures they have taken against the persons who had snatched the cameras.
We note that this growing culture of unbridled and open violence against journalists is in the context of, and to a large degree even animated by, the actions of Minister Mervyn Silva – a notorious thug in the Government reviled for his attacks against media personnel – and the inaction of the Government and Police to meaningfully discipline him. Violence against media by those in high public office, as well as aiding and abetting those who commit such acts of violence gives rise to a culture of impunity that sadly gives rise for incidents of this nature, where students protests suddenly turn into lynch mobs.
The Police, by bringing the culprits of this assault to book, can restore confidence in the rule of law and disabuse the misguided notions of students that violence has no consequences. The failure to do so fuels, at all levels of polity and society in Sri Lanka, a growing intolerance of and violence against independent media.