‘Cops knew they were assaulting mediamen’

Reporters get a beating when police and university students clash in Colombo 7

A Lankadeepa reporter, commenting on a police-university student clash that took place last week, said police officers had assaulted reporters and photographers, despite knowing they were from the media.
“We were assaulted even after we showed them our media accreditation cards, issued by the Government Information Department,” said Bingun Gamage of the Lankadeepa, a Wijeya Newspapers Ltd publication.

Mr. Gamage was one of the victims of a police assault on reporters and photographers covering a student protest last Wednesday, at the Ministry of Higher Education, in Ward Place, Colombo 7.
‘The students were conducting a sit-in protest at the Ministry. At the end of the protest, the police suddenly turned on us. We were there to cover the protest,” Mr. Gamage said.

According to Mr. Gamage, the students were walking away from the Ministry building, after their sit-in protest, and were moving towards the Eye Hospital junction when the police started hitting them with belts. “The police continued to assault the students until DIG K. G. Pathirana arrived on the scene and brought the situation under control.”

Meanwhile, another police-student scuffle had broken out at the Vihara Maha Devi Park. Several female students were bleeding, according to Mr. Gamage.

“The students said they would leave the park peacefully. The police allowed them to leave, but as soon as the students came out, the police started to assault them again. The students scattered, but the police continued to hit anyone they could catch.

“We saw a group of 10 policemen beating up one student. The officers chased away the others who were standing and watching.” Bingun Gamage said the police then surrounded the reporters.
“I was pushed from behind. Officers started lashing me with their belts. My colleague Sandaruwan Yatikanda came to help me, but he was dragged away and beaten up.

“We complained to a police officer, who said there must have been a mistake and apologised. But it was not a mistake. The police assaulted us after we had told them we were journalists and showed them our media IDs.”

Photographer Chamila Karunaratne said he was at the Town Hall roundabout, taking pictures of students being assaulted when a policeman came from behind and pushed him, demanding to know why he was taking photographs.

“Two other media people who were with me, Pradeep Dilrukshana and Subramaniam Guneratnam, then started photographing the policeman who was scolding me. The policeman turned on Pradeep and pushed him. I took a picture of that incident.

“When the policeman realised he was alone with three photographers, he covered his face with his cap and left.”

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