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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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Special COVID-19 probe crippled by infections among CCD sleuths: AG calls for new police team

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Brandix Apparel Limited yesterday (29) said that the company would fully cooperate with relevant authorities in the investigation ordered by the Attorney General (AG). A spokesperson for the company said so when The Island sought a clarification with regard to AG Dappula de Livera, PC, directing the police to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged lapses on the part of the company as well as those officials leading to the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

The Minuwangoda eruption, which happened in the first week of October is widely believed to be the cause of the fast expanding Peliyagoda cluster.

Asked whether the police had contacted the Brandix management as regards the investigation and sought access to Brandix management and workers at its Minuwangoda apparel manufacturing facility as well as records at the Minuwangoda facility, the spokesperson said: “We will work with the relevant authorities in this regard”.

The Colombo Crime Division (CCD) tasked with the probe has suffered a serious setback due to a section of its officers being tested positive for COVID-19. Authoritative sources said that the CCD lacked sufficient strength to carry out the investigation.

AG de Livera early this week told DIG Ajith Rohana that a progress report should be submitted to him by or before Nov. 13.

Sources said that the badly depleted CCD was not in a position to conduct the high-profile investigation, in addition to other ongoing inquiries. The AG has directed the Acting IGP to constitute a special team of law enforcement officers to conduct the investigation. Sources acknowledged the urgent need for a thorough inquiry into the far worse second corona wave. Sources said that the AG issued fresh instructions in that regard after the crisis in the CCD was brought to his notice.

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Most garment workers under self-quarantine left to fend for themselves

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of garment workers who were undergoing self-quarantine in Minuwangoda did not receive any assistance, Chamila Thushari of the Dabindu Collective, a labour organisation that works with garment workers, told The Island yesterday.

She said that those who were under self-quarantine did not have money to purchase food and even those who were willing to help could not reach them.

“Some of them have received food parcels from their work places but that is not adequate. Most others have not received any assistance. Matters will only get worse after curfew is imposed throughout the Western Province,” Thushari said.

Most of these workers are undergoing self-quarantine at their boarding places, which also house individuals who still work in garment factories. “Although there is a curfew, they can go to work. These are perfect incubators for the virus,” she said.

Thushari said that every day between 20-30 workers under self-quarantine, tested positive for COVID-19.

There were no public health inspectors to monitor the boarding houses of garment workers to ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures were being followed, she said.

“Not even Grama Niladaris visit them,” Chamila said.

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SJB requests separate seats for its dissidents

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Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has written to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena requesting him to make arrangements to provide separate seats to the nine MPs who had voted with the government for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution recently.

The letter dated yesterday said that the SJB parliamentary group had decided to expel MPs Diana Gamage, A. Aravind Kumar, Ishak Rahuman, Faisal Cassim, H. M. M. Haris, M.S. Thowfeeq, Nazeer Ahmed, A.A.S.M. Raheem and S.M.M. Musharaf and it requests the Speaker to make separate seating arrangements for these MPs in the Chamber.

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