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Moves to block Weliweriya coverage

2013 Aug 10

Details are emerging of efforts to control media coverage of the Weliweriya incident, the US based Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ) said today.

CPJ said that in Rathupaswala, Weliweriya, on August 1, soldiers beat and fired on people protesting what they feared was contamination of their drinking water by a nearby factory.

Local journalists’ support group Free Media Movement, in an email statement the day after the attack, said, “It is very clear that military crackdown has been pre-planned and not a spontaneous reaction. The army has launched military operation-style coordinated attacks from three main points using assault rifles.”

Because of military pressure on the media at the time, there was little photo or video coverage of the actual shooting, only eyewitness accounts. There are Sinhala interviewson YouTube. Despite official efforts to downplay the violence, criticism of the government is bubbling up. Bishop Maxwell Silva, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo, condemned the killings at Wednesday’s memorial service for one of the youth who died. “The Armed Forces have gone beyond the assigned responsibilities to cause the death of this student Ravishan and two others. These are innocent children who were seeking refuge in the church and in a safe place, while shooting was going,” Silva said, according to the Sri Lankan Catholics Facebook page.

Too big to be ignored altogether, the attack was reported in Sri Lankan pro-government papers initially in short items, CPJ added.

The army says it will conduct an internal investigation into the deaths of three civilians from gunshot wounds. Opposition politicians are calling for an independent investigation.

CPJ says international correspondents who travel to Colombo in November for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (assuming they will be allowed into the country) should make an effort to reach out to their colleagues under duress and report the pressures they face.

“In this case, the media in Sri Lanka are part of the story,” CPJ added. (Colombo Gazette)

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