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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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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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