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Police in Sri Lanka accused of attacking TV journalists

(Photo: New First)

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 (CPJ) has said.

On 9 July, 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 Colombo, according to a report by CNN and multiple reports by News First.

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

On 11 July, Special Task Force Senior Superintendent Romesh Liyanage, who is said to have 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 authorities were 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.”

News First said police used batons to beat anchors Sarasi Peiris and Judin Sinthujan, camera operator Warun Sampath and digital correspondent Janith Mendis.

The broadcaster said Peiris suffered injuries to her head and back, while Sinthujan, Sampath and Mendis sustained unspecified “serious” injuries. It said police had fired tear gas at four of its other employees.

News First is owned by MTV Channel, a major Sri Lankan media company.