Sri Lanka: Journalists fear for their lives after assault by illegal loggers (VIDEO)

Two journalists who are in hospital after been violently beaten up and threatened with death while investigating an illegal logging racket, fear for their safety as the assailants are roaming free with apparent protection from authorities.

On 12 Monday afternoon, Shanmugam Thavaseelan and Kanapathipillai Kumanan covering illicit felling in the Mullaitivu district were attacked by illegal loggers wielding clubs and an adze. Most of their photographic evidence was destroyed while they managed to save few video footage. 

“The leader of the thugs who attacked us is roaming freely even though there are multiple complaints against him and several arrest warrants,” Thavaseelan who lost a couple of his front teeth had told fellow journalists visiting him in the Mullaitivu District Hospital.

“This shows the level of protection he enjoys. He had an adze in his hand which he threatened to use to cut me down to pieces. If some in the gang did not stop him, I would have been dead by now. If they are not arrested our lives are in danger.”

Four men on motorbikes

The two Tamil journalists were investigating a tip-off about an illegal logging operation in the Murippu forest reserve adjoining a cultivated teak range. While the teak was legally felled by a supplier to the State Timber Corporation (STC) the bordering forest reserve was illegally logged by another who was allegedly introduced to the supplier by the Beat Forest Officer (BFO) of the range. Locals are convinced that the illegal logger was running a timber racket in collusion with the licensed supplier and forestry officials under the guise of supplying legitimate timber to STC.

When Thavaseelan and Kumanan visited the nearby Kumulamuani east, they found a two-floor timber construction within a clearing enclosed in a bared wire fence with teak posts. The journalists estimate that at least 200 logs went to build the enclosure.

Four men on motorbikes confronted the journalists who were filming what they saw.

“We told them that we are hearing about illegal logging and what they have to say about it,” said Thavaseelan.

“Then they beat us up. Kumanan was from that village. They accused him of doing harm to the village and banged him heavily on the head. He started bleeding. I was attacked with an adze. I lost my teeth. The leader threatened to kill us.”

Attacked and robbed

The four forced them to the enclosure, their recordings were wiped off and memory cards were removed. Their money was stolen.

Once inside the enclosure, the attackers filmed the two journalists accusing them of illegal entry and theft.

“I told them that they can lodge a complaint with the police if we have committed any offence,” said Thavaseelan.

The assailants released the two journalists later who lodged a complaint at the Mullaitivu police station and were admitted to the Mullaitivu District Hospital.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has rubbished exposures of illegal logging in forest reserves as “fake news campaigns”. In contrast, Defence Secretary Major General Kamal Gunaratne who admitted in public that the ongoing illegal timber racket is a serious threat to the environment, pledged to take action against it with the assistance of the president’s sibling and State Minister for Internal Security Chamal Rajapaksa.  © JDS


Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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