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Sri Lankan intellectuals assaulted at Colombo May Day rally; journalists targeted

Activists of the Sri Lankan Marxist political party Peoples' Liberation Front march during a rally to mark International Labor Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1 May 2015
Activists of the Sri Lankan Marxist political party Peoples' Liberation Front march during a rally to mark International Labor Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1 May 2015

AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena

This statement was originally published on on 5 May 2015.

The Free Media Movement strongly condemns the physical attack unleashed on Dr. Nirmaal Ranjith Devasiri and Dr.Kumudu Kusum Kumara at the May Day rally organised by the pro-Rajapaksa political parties and groups at the Kirullapona Lalith Athulathmudali ground, in Colombo.The National Freedom Front (NDF) led by Wimal Weerawansa, a member of the Parliament, played a leading role in this pro-Rajapaksa rally. Dr. Devasiri is former FUTA President and current media spokesperson of the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) and Dr. Kumara is also a prominent public intellectual. FMM would like to reiterate that those violent politicians and their henchmen who cannot stop the habit of hunting down dissenters should be brought to book. Dr. Devasiri has not only been actively engaged in the issues concerning the University community but also in re-establishing democracy and good governance in the country. He is a person who expresses his views on the social interest without fear.

It is not unusual for politically active people to walk around the city of Colombo on May Day to various spots to listen to different political opinions. Dr. Devasiri and Dr. Kumara were attacked while listening to speeches at the pro-Rajapaksa May Day rally. The attack unleashed at the rally was led by politicians like Weerawansa, who is known to use hate speech against dissenters and incite his followers against them; this indicates a lack of reform in this group, even after their recent loss of power in the recently held presidential election.

The FMM urges the government to take speedy action against those responsible for the assault against Dr. Devasiri and Dr. Kumara.

At the same time, the FMM would like to highlight that although some positive initiatives have been taken by the government in relation to media freedom, still old habits of media suppression have been reported from different parts of the country in recent times.

One such incident was reported from Poddala in Galle district. An ITN TV reporter who had been covering shortcomings of a maternity clinic held at the Poddala, Bope local council was assaulted and prevented from doing his work by the Council's vice president. In a separate incident, a journalist for Swarnawahini TV was assaulted by a policeman while on his way home after work; the policeman claimed the journalist ignored a sign instructing him to stop the motorcycle he was riding.

In Jaffna, journalists were prevented from covering a meeting held to discuss the serious issue of water pollution in Chunnakam. This was a clear case of preventing people's right to access information, which the government has promised to adhere to.

The FMM would like to urge the government to look in to these issues as well and take appropriate action in order to prevent repetition.

Seetha Ranjanee
Convenor, Free Media Movement
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