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Attack on journalists in Murippu forest: Media groups demand justice

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… Freddy Gamage alleges complicity of police

Professionals Web Journalists Association has called for a thorough investigation into the recent attack on two journalists in the Murippu forest in the Mullaitivu district.

The Association’s Convenor Freddy Gamage alleged that journalists Shanmugam Thavaseelan and Kanapathipillai Kumanan had been beaten up by gangsters on Oct 12 while they were covering ongoing illegal felling of trees in the Muruppu forest area.

Gamage told The Island that timber racketeers and illegal sand miners had the backing of local officials, including some law enforcement authorities, hence the reluctance on the part the police to properly inquire into the incident.

The civil society activist pointed out that the Mullaitivu incident took place close on the heels of illegal sand miners attacking a journalist in the Moneragala district. In a joint statement issued by Gamage and Kalum Shivantha, Convenor and Secretary of Professionals Web Journalists Association, respectively, the outfit questioned the complicity of the Wildlife Department in the ongoing deforestation in the Mullaitivu jungles.

The association emphasized that it would be the responsibility of the government to arrest those responsible without delay and ensure the proper investigation.

In addition to the Professional Web Journalists Association, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Sri Lanka associates the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Union (FMETU) urged the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to an IFJ statement, the journalists had been attacked by four men on motorcycles brandishing iron rods after they took photos and video footage of the illegal collection of timber in Murippu jungle area. Subsequently, the attackers snatched the camera and journalists’ mobile phones, and deleted the videos. The assailants also looted some jewellery and money. Kumanan received injuries to his head and nose while Thavaseelan lost a tooth. The attackers also threatened to kill them, the IFJ alleged in its statement.

The injured journalists were then taken to Mullaitivu District Hospital, where they received treatment. Media organizations expressed concern over law enforcement authorities turning a blind eye to complaints lodged by the journalists at Mullaitivu police. The journalists have told media organizations that the leader of the gang continued to roam in spite of multiple complaints lodged against him in the past.

Journalists who exposed the illegal smuggling of natural resources are frequently targeted in Sri Lanka, they alleged. Earlier, Derana TV journalist Indunil Wijenayake was attacked by sand-miners in the Kumbukkan Oya area of Moneragala district on Oct 3.

“It is a tragedy that journalists exposing the wrongdoings are attacked and perpetrators go unpunished. We urge authorities to initiate legal actions against those involved, regardless of their rank and political affiliations,” the FMM Convener Seetha Ranjanee said.

The FMETU General Secretary Dharmasiri Lankapeli said: “The FMETU calls for a speedy investigation into this brutal assault on journalists Shanmugam Thavaseelan and Kanapathipillai Kumanan and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The IFJ said: “Attacks on journalists for exposing the illegal smuggling of natural resources and ongoing impunity in such cases contributes to the disturbing frequency of attacks on journalists. The IFJ urges the Sri Lanka government to take the case seriously and do all that they can to ensure that the perpetrators of these violent acts are punished.” (SF)



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SJB MP: Most parents have to choose between food and children’s education

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By Saman Indrajith

Most Sri Lankan parents are compelled to choose between food for their families and their children’s eduction, SJB Matale District MP Rohini Kumari Wijerathne told Parliament yesterday.

Only a few parents were able to feed and educate their children the MP said, participating in the debate on Budget 2023 under the expenditure heads of Ministries of Education and Women and Child Affairs.

“An 80-page exercise book costs Rs. 200. A CR book costs Rs 560. A pencil or pen costs Rs 40. A box of colour pencils costs Rs 570 while a bottle of glue costs Rs 150. If the father is a daily wage earner he has to spend one fourth of his salary on a box of colour pencils for his child. A satchel now costs around Rs 4,000. A pair of school shoes is above Rs 3,500. The Minister of Education knows well how many days a child could use an 80-page exercise book for taking notes. Roughly, stationery cost is around Rs 25,000 to 30,000 per child, MP Wijerathne said, adding that only Rs. 232 billion had been allotted for the Ministry of Education by Budget 2023.

“After paying salaries of teachers and covering officials’ expenses, etc., there will be very little left for other important matters,” the MP said, noting that Sri Lanka would soon be known as the country that made the lowest allocation of funds for education in the South Asian region.

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All crises boil down to flaws in education system, says Dullas

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By Saman Indrajith

All the crises Sri Lanka was beset with were due to the country’s outdated education system, MP Dullas Alahapperuma told Parliament yesterday.

“The political and economic crisis we are facing is the direct result of our education,” he said.

The Sri Lankan education system had not changed with global developments. Our system is not even geared for employment. Our examination system is antiquated and our classrooms are in the 19th Century.

However, the students belong to the 21st century. How can you cater to 21st Century children under an outdated system?” he queried.

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President: SL should tap its potential to become education hub in region

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By Saman Indrajith

Sri Lanka has the potential to become a regional education hub, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said addressing a Committee Stage debate of the 2023 Budget in parliament yesterday.The President said that the way schools are conducted will change in the next 25 years.

“In 25 years, there may not be physical universities. That actually makes it easier for us to become a regional hub of education,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said a large number of students leave the country for higher education. Around three billion US dollars is sent out of the country for foreign education, he said.

The President said that if Sri Lanka becomes a regional hub for education the country can earn about USD 10 billion.

“I urge the National Council and other Parliamentary Committees to look into this,” he said.

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