Armed attack on the home of a famous Sri Lankan television journalist

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an independent investigation into the attack by armed men on the home of famous Sri Lankan television journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama after he received death threats related to his work. Those responsible for this punitive raid must be identified and the authorities must put an end to all forms of harassment of journalists, says RSF.

After a loud noise woke up Chamuditha Samarawickrama at around 2:10 a.m. on February 14, he heard gunshots fired in his direction. He later discovered that the shots had shattered some of the windows in his house and excrement had been thrown against the walls.

CCTV footage showed that at least four masked gunmen stormed his home in Piliyandala, a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. To enter the compound, they threatened his guard by pointing a gun to his head, then drove off in the white van they had arrived in.

Police have not established the motive for the attack, but Samarawickrama had recently reported receiving several death threats on his phone in connection with his work,

The host of two Hiru TV shows, “Salakuna” and “Patthare Wisthare”, Samarawickrama also does interviews on his own YouTube channel called “Truth with Chamuditha”. In a recent interview, a former police officer who was granted asylum in Britain criticized the methods used by the Rajapaksa family, one of whose members, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is the current president.

Reminder of the most repressive period

Secretary at the Ministry of Defense when his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was president from 2005 to 2015, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was then known as the leader of the “white van gang” because of the vehicles used by this unit to kidnap and kill journalists. At least 14 journalists disappeared after being taken away in the notorious white vans, which looked every bit like the van used in this week’s raid on Samarawickrama’s house.

“The modus operandi used in this attack on Chamuditha Samarawickrama recalls the height of the persecution of Sri Lankan journalists,” said Daniel Bastard. “The perpetrators and instigators of this unacceptable act of intimidation must be identified and prosecuted. We urge the government to end all forms of harassment of journalists in the country.

The Samarawickrama attack sparked outrage from mainstream media serving Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese, who live in the south of the island. Journalists based in the north and east, where Tamil and/or Muslim minorities live, are also constantly subjected to physical and judicial harassment by the authorities.

Hurry to name the sources

In the eastern town of Batticaloa, for example, a court ordered Punniyamoorthy Sasikaran, a journalist who is also treasurer of the city’s press club, to stay at home on February 4 under the pretext of preventing him from covering a “prohibited demonstration” which had never been planned and did not take place. Since mid-2021, Sasikaran has been repeatedly interrogated by Batticaloa Police’s Special Crimes Branch and forced to reveal his sources.

When another journalist from the Tamil minority, Selvakumar Nilanthanbeen interrogates by members of the Batticaloa Terrorism Investigation Division last July, he was pressured to hand over the passwords that would give them access to his email services and bank accounts.

In January 2021, RSF revealed that the Batticaloa authorities were still holding Murugupillai Kokulathasana freelance journalist who was secretly arrested for terrorism last November.

Sri Lanka is ranked 127th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.