Speaking from their hospital beds in Mullaitivu, two Tamil Guardian correspondents who were attacked whilst working on a story on illegal deforestation have recounted the assault and spoken out about their fears of further attacks.
Shanmugam Thavaseelan and Kanapathipillai Kumanan were both working on a story on illegal deforestation that had been taking place in Mullaitivu, when they were assaulted on Monday.
Illegal deforestation has been taking place in the Murippu forest reserve, with a timber racket allegedly involving collusion from Sri Lankan forestry officials. As the two journalists went to the Kumulamuani to investigate further, they found a timber enclosure with some 200 logs, which they suspect to have been illegally felled. As they took photographs of the logs, they were approached by men on motorbikes.
“We told them that we are hearing about illegal logging and what they have to say about it,” Thavaseelan told JDS Lanka from his hospital bed at the Mullaitivu District Hospital.
“Then they beat us up. Kumanan was from that village. They accused him of doing harm to the village and banged him heavily on the head. He started bleeding. I was attacked with an adze. I lost my teeth. The leader threatened to kill us.”
The journalists had their recordings of the deforestation wiped and memory cards removed. The attackers even stole some 50,000 Rs from their wallets. They then proceeded to film the journalists on their mobile phones, accusing them of trespassing on to their property.
“The leader of the thugs who attacked us is roaming freely even though there are multiple complaints against him and several arrest warrants,” Thavaseelan added.
“This shows the level of protection he enjoys. He had an adze in his hand which he threatened to use to cut me down to pieces. If some in the gang did not stop him, I would have been dead by now. If they are not arrested our lives are in danger.”
The journalists have both lodged complaints with the Sri Lankan police, who have reportedly begun investigations into the assault.