The editor of the Negombo-based newspaper Meepura and the Meepura news portal and convener of the Web Journalists Association, Gamage was attacked by two men as he left a Negombo municipal council meeting that he had covered at the mayor’s invitation.
His assailants, whose faces were covered by motorcycle helmets, hit him with a wooden pole and then fled on motorcycle. The police later arrested two persons suspected of being his attackers and are still holding them. The leading suspect, Thusan Krishmal, is reportedly a municipal council worker.
Gamage thinks he was the victim of a reprisal for his reporting, much of which is focused on corruption involving local officials. Above all, he suspects that it was linked to his coverage of deputy mayor Dayan Lanza.
The deputy mayor called him two weeks before the attack and told him that God would punish him if he wrote bad things about him (the deputy mayor) or his brother, Nimal Lanza, who is a deputy minister in President Maithreepala Sirisena’s government.
With supporting photos, Web journalists in Sri Lanka claim that Krishmal, the leading suspect, is an associate of both of the Lanza brothers. They also reports that an examination of Krishmal’s mobile phone records shows that he called the deputy mayor 16 times on the day of the attack.
“We applaud the way the authorities moved quickly to arrest Freddy Gamage’s suspected attackers,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We now urge them to identify those who masterminded the attack and to bring them to justice.
“The police must not let their investigation be affected by the status and official positions of those singled out by Gamage. And if another attack take place, those targeted by his reporting, especially Dayan Lanza, who has already tried to intimidate him, should be regarded by the police as suspects.”
Although attacks on journalists have declined since the new government took over in January 2015, RSF and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka reiterate their call to President Sirisena to end the policy of violence against journalists of his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and to combat impunity.
Sri Lanka is ranked 141st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.