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Gunmen attack high-profile Sri Lanka T.V. journalist; Another Social activist arrested

(AFP)- Armed men stormed the home of a high-profile Sri Lankan television journalist critical of the government Monday, police said, sparking condemnation by local media rights groups.

Chamuditha Samarawickrama, who had criticised the powerful ruling Rajapaksa family and their allies in recent broadcasts, including on YouTube, was shaken but unhurt after the pre-dawn raid, police said.

“They carried weapons to intimidate the guard and gained access to the housing compound,” a police official said adding that forensic experts had been called in to launch an investigation.

“There were at least three armed men and they travelled in a white van,” Samarawickrama told AFP. “I heard shots fired. They smashed my windows and threw faeces at the house. It was captured on CCTV.”

“I don’t know who is behind this attack, but I want to tell them that they can’t silence me.”

Local media rights organisations denounced the attack on Samarawickrama who is both liked and loathed for his confrontationist interviews with public and business figures on his programme “Truth With Chamuditha.”

“This attack underscores the dangerous environment in which journalists have been working in Sri Lanka in recent decades,” said local media rights group the Free Media Movement.

“It is ironic that this (incident) comes less than a week after we commemorated journalists who were killed or otherwise victimised.”

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), at least 14 journalists were murdered during the 2005-15 presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current prime minister and elder brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Two weeks ago, police began investigating Samarawickrama and his Hiru TV network for polemic against law enforcement and allegedly making a false complaint of a threat to his life.

He had broadcast last week an interview with a former police officer who had secured political asylum in Britain after claiming that he was being persecuted during a previous Rajapaksa administration.

The latest assault comes weeks before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is due to take up Sri Lanka’s rights record over long-standing allegations of abuses.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet had called for “renewed attention” to the intimidation of journalists, lawyers and activists in Sri Lanka after the Rajapaksa family returned to power in 2019.

Mean while a Social activist Shehan Malaka Gamage has been arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on Monday over a statement he had made on the Easter Sunday bomb attacks during a media briefing held last year.

Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said he was arrested in a Colombo suburb Panadura following the advice by the Attorney General.

During a media breifing last year, Shehan Malaka allegedly claimed that the Easter attacks was a political conspiracy and he had reportedly called on the Government to investigate it.

Earlier, he was questioned by the CID with regard to  comments made to the media on the 2019 Easter attacks.

The spokesman said the CID had sought Attorney General’s advice on further action against Malaka Gamage and he was arrested accordingly, the local Daily Mirror reported.

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith also vehemently condemned the arrest of activist Shehan Malaka and the attack on journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama and had expressed his concern on the two incidents, Member of the Archdiocese of Colombo Communication Committee Chairman Father Cyril Gamini Fernando said today.

Father Fernando said Cardinal Ranjith had informed him to express his dismay over the two incidents.

“These incidents have taken place just before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session to be held at the end of the month and might adversely affect Sri Lanka internationally,” he said.

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