Tamils and Muslims protest Sri Lanka police harassing Sinhala journalist

Tamil and Muslim journalists from the east of Sri Lanka protesting police harassment of a Sinhala colleague in the capital called for the immediate arrest of the offender.

The Eastern Tamil Journalists Association and the Batticaloa District Journalists staged a protest in the weekend condemning a senior police officer intimidating a photojournalist on duty at the Colombo court complex premises.

Inspector of police Neomal Rangajeewa manhandled and threatened journalist Akila Jayawardena outside the courthouse, where the inspector is being tried in connection with a prison massacre.

Photos deleted

Rangajeewa grabbed the journalist despite been repeatedly shown the media ID and frogmarched Jayawardane to a police post within the court building, where he deleted all the photos.

Protesting journalists in Batticaloa the next day carried placards in Tamil, Sinhala and English saying, “Hands off journalists, arrest those who obstruct journalists’ duties, safeguard journalists rights”.

Journalists still being threatened in a country when no one is held accountable for the killings and abductions of media workers in the past few decades is a matter of serious concern, said a protestor.

Jayawardena and the government’s Director-General Information Nalaka Kaluwewa have lodged separate complaints with the police.

Prison massacre

Rangajeewa, a former head of the Police Narcotics Bureau is accused in the murder of 27 inmates of the Welikada prison in November 2012.

He was suspended by the police after the case was filed but reinstated after Gotabaya Rajapaksa became president.

Following media exposure of the incident, Rangajeewa hurriedly apologised saying that he “didn’t like the looks” of the photographer.

“An apology does not guarantee media freedom,” said a protester in Batticaloa who emphasised that journalists would not be free to carry out their duties until action is taken against perpetrators.

Symbol of ‘dark decade’

At least 44 media workers in Sri Lanka have been either killed or disappeared within a decade according to information collected by JDS. An overwhelming majority is from the Tamil speaking north and east.

Condemning the incident, international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that the act reveals "extraordinary contempt for the media among certain members of the security forces... who are a symbol of the ‘dark decade’.

“Inspector Neomal Rangajeewa’s behaviour towards the photojournalist Akila Jayawardane is completely unacceptable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

Sri Lanka is ranked 127th out of 180 countries and territories in Reporters Without Borders (RSF)'s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.




Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.