New York, July 2, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by the attack Monday evening on Namal Perera, freelance journalist and deputy head of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), a media rights advocacy group. Perera was attacked by men with iron bars in Colombo while traveling in a car with a British diplomatic official, according to international news reports.
Perera is recovering from serious injuries in a Colombo hospital. Mahendra Ratnaweer, the British High Commission officer, was severely injured, according to Agence France-Presse.
Perera and Ratnaweer’s car was followed by men on two motorbikes, according to Sunanda Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement, who spoke with Perera in the hospital. Sensing danger, Perera said he phoned a colleague at SLPI. The car was soon cornered by the motorbikes and a white van. Four men stepped out of the van and broke the car’s windows with metal poles.
The men attempted to pull Perera out of the car, repeatedly shouting, “We want you.” Both Perera and the officer were beaten repeatedly with the poles. The attackers then fled the scene.
“The attack on Namal Perera is yet another example of the violence and intimidation aimed at journalists in Sri Lanka,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “These attacks have gone uninvestigated and unprosecuted. The government is responsible for the culture of impunity that surrounds violence against journalists. It is time to reverse that ugly reality.”
Parera told reporters he is convinced the attackers targeted him. He has recently criticized the government’s actions in its campaign against secessionist Tamil rebels. From the hospital, he told reporters that Tuesday’s incident is part of an attempt to silence people who criticize the official policy. On June 13, CPJ wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressing alarm at the violence directed toward journalists and the antagonism of his government toward those who report critically.
The Sri Lankan government has appointed a cabinet subcommittee under the chairmanship of Minister Sarath Amunugamato to address the ongoing attacks, and two police teams are investigating Perera’s case, according to Deshapriya. He said the Free Media Movement intends to treat this case as a litmus test of the effectiveness of government’s pledge to eradicate threats to journalists. Police say they have no leads so far.