Violence against journalists: Forever an unpunished crime

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Journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama’s residence in Piliyandala was attacked by an “unknown group” two days ago. Based on media reports, a group of four men arrived in a white-coloured van, wearing facemasks and carrying weapons. The attackers are reported to have entered the journalist’s housing complex after threatening the security official at the gate by holding a gun to his head. The journalist told reporters that the attackers had pelted stones at his house after forcefully entering the complex and that he heard multiple gunshots soon after.

This is a disturbing development reminiscent of an era when journalists were intimidated and even killed. Chamuditha Samarawickrama is a well-known TV reporter, lately known for his rapidfire and controversial interview style for both a private broadcaster affiliated with the current administration and on his own YouTube channel. In recent times, Samarawickrama’s interviews have raised eyebrows due to his criticism of several individuals within the Government. He was also very much part of the controversy surrounding a popular actress and the Minister of Public Security. Samarawickrama was a vocal critic of the supposedly favoured treatment offered to the actress during a mandatory COVID-19 quarantine imposed by a court.

But this is hardly the time to speculate the reasons behind this atrocious attack on a journalist’s home. Clearly the attack was an attempt to intimidate Samarawickrama and perhaps put an end to his critical reporting. Sri Lankan regimes in general and the current rulers in particular have long legacies of repression against the country’s independent media. Every time such attacks have happened in the past, the perpetrators have walked free, whether they planted claymore mines inside a television studio or murdered a journalist on his way to work. Media personnel and the public cannot be blamed for a lack of faith in promised impartial investigations into the violence that has most recently targeted journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama. In fact, in several cases, documents and evidence laid before courts of law have implicated state security agencies in the attacks against the free press.

It is in the Government’s best interest to act to ensure a thorough investigation into the violence in Piliyandala targeting a reporter’s home. The minister of public security, under whose purview the Sri Lanka Police functions and who has himself been the subject of a wide-ranging interview with Samarawickrama has a duty to investigate the crime and bring the culprits to justice. As many attacks against journalists in the past have proven, the failure to do so will only cement perceptions that these attacks are politically motivated. As the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder and the Prageeth Ekneligoda enforced disappearance has proven, while those who carried out the crimes may get away with such crimes by law, they are often convicted in the court of public opinion.

Disturbingly, there is a culture of violence against journalists in Sri Lanka that has been nurtured by impunity. No crime against a journalist has ever been fully solved – no perpetrator has served time for carrying out the violence. That shameful record brings no confidence regarding the fate of any investigation into this latest attack against the TV reporter. But it is also precisely why we must demand justice and accountability against those who seek to terrorise the free press into submission.

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Disclaimer: Violence against journalists: Forever an unpunished crime - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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