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Journalists should never have to work in fear - A statement on the attack of our colleagues

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On Monday the 12th of October, two Tamil Guardian correspondents were assaulted and hospitalised in a brutal attack in Mullaitivu.

Our two colleagues, Kanapathipillai Kumanan and Shanmugan Thavaseelan, were working on an important story on illegal deforestation when they were set upon and attacked with iron rods. The vicious attack left them both with injuries that required hospital treatment. Both journalists had the evidence they had gathered deleted and money stolen.

This assault of our colleagues is yet another blatant attack on the freedom of the Tamil press. It remains completely unacceptable and must be urgently addressed.

As our Mullativu correspondents, both journalists have courageously covered many issues that continue to afflict the conflict-impacted region - from the extreme poverty across the area to the occupying militarisation that suffocates civilian life. The impact of illegal deforestation is another pressing issue that has been devastating to both livelihoods and to the environment. It is a topic that deserves further investigation. Whilst carrying out their journalistic duty in exposing the deep impact this has on communities in the region, they were violently attacked. 

We have no doubt this assault of our colleagues was done to prevent them from speaking out on this issue. Both of them have faced threats and intimidation previously, including from the Sri Lankan security forces, for their work. Nevertheless, they have bravely persisted and refused to back down in the face of intimidation. This latest assault, however, is the most violent they have faced so far.

Those suspected to be behind the attack have been carrying out illegal activities entirely unhindered - a telling sign of possible state collusion given the level of militarisation in the region. On an island where dozens of Tamil journalists have faced physical violence and assassinations in the past, and continue to face threats and intimidation at present, this latest attack adds to a growing climate of fear. In the south too, we have seen too many shameful assaults. This cannot be allowed to continue.

The freedom of the press must be upheld. The perpetrators of this assault must be held accountable and the safety of all journalists working in the Tamil homeland and across the island guaranteed. 

Journalists should never have to work in fear. Too many of our colleagues have suffered. There cannot be more.

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Dr Thusiyan Nandakumar is the current Editor-In-Chief of the Tamil Guardian.

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Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Tamil journalists are particularly at threat, with at least 41 media workers known to have been killed by the Sri Lankan state or its paramilitaries during and after the armed conflict.

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