Sri Lanka: Journalist attacked by soldiers for reporting on Tamil memorial

Tamil journalist Vishwalingam Vishwachandran was brutally attacked by a group of Sri Lankan soldiers in Mullaitivu district on November 28. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Sri Lanka affiliates, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of Media Employees and Trade Unions (FMETU), condemn the attack and urge the Sri Lankan military to immediately cease their efforts to stifle critical reportage.

Tamil journalist Vishwalingam Vishwachandran after he was attacked by Sri Lankan military on November 28. Credit: JDSlanka

Vishwalingam Vishwachandran was attacked by members of the 59th division of the Sri Lankan army while covering a Tamil tribute in Mullaitivu, a former battle zone, to those who died during the country’s decades-long civil war. Three Sri Lankan soldiers were arrested in connection with the incident. 

According to the SLWJA and FMETU, soldiers attacked Vishwachandran with a palm stick wrapped with barbed wire as he captured footage of the violence levelled against mourners at the commemoration ceremony. The Sri Lankan military also seized his mobile phone and camera before damaging his motorcycle. Vishwachandran sustained injuries to his stomach, arms, and legs in the attack. He was admitted to hospital and is currently undergoing treatment. 

Sri Lankan security forces drove away grieving crowds as they attempted to light lamps in memory of their loved ones. The coastal district bears thousands of unmarked graves where Tamil civilians were killed at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. The Tamil Tigers, an insurgent group, have long commemorated November 27 as ‘Heroes Day’ to honour its members, however, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government banned the day’s observation after he came to power in 2019. 

The attack is the latest in a series of hostilities against Tamil journalists by Sri Lankan officials. On September 14, Tamil journalist and union treasurer Punniyamoorthy Sasikaran was interrogated by Sri Lankan police for the third time in three months. Batticaloa-based Tamil journalist, Selvakumar Nilanthan, was also interrogated by authorities in July, who demanded he disclose his personal and financial details. 

The SLWJA said: “We strongly condemn this inhumane attack on Vishwalingam Vishwachandran. SLWJA urged the Minister of Mass Media, Dullas Alahapperuma to take steps to punish those responsible through an impartial inquiry, and to make necessary arrangements to prevent such incidents in the future.” 
 
The FMETU said: “We consider this attack as an attack on the right of all journalists to report freely. We urge all government officials, including the IGP, to bring those responsible for the attack under the law immediately and to take all possible measures to prevent such incidents in the future.” 
 
The IFJ said: “The ongoing intimidation of Tamil journalists in Sri Lanka is of great concern and the IFJ condemns any attack on journalists based on their ethnicity, religion, or faith. The IFJ urges the Sri Lankan government to conduct an expeditious investigation and hold the perpetrators to account.” 

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

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