Freelance journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara was detained and assaulted by police while reporting on a union-led protest in Colombo on July 28. The IFJ and its affiliates, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), the Free Media Movement (FMM), and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SWLJA) condemn Uduwaragedara’s detention and assault and urge Sri Lankan authorities and human rights bodies to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

Journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara is forced into a police vehicle after attempting to leave a protest in Colombo on July 28. Credit: Facebook

 In a video posted online, Sri Lankan police officers can be seen forcibly removing freelance journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara from an auto rickshaw, pulling at his hair and shirt in the process. Uduwaragedara can be heard repeatedly identifying himself as a journalist, with his shirt visibly torn.

The journalist was forced into a vehicle and taken into custody by law enforcement. According to the journalist, he was struck multiple times while en route to Colombo’s Borella Police Station, and sustained a head injury as a result of his treatment. Police failed to provide him with medical care during his detention. The journalist was held without charges and has since been granted bail on the orders of the Magistrate’s Court in Hulftsdorp after over 24 hours in custody.

At the time of his arrest, the journalist was taking videos of a trade union protest against a proposed International Monetary Fund agreement he was attempting to leave. Uduwaragedara is a member of the Sri Lanka Young Journalists Association and operates the YouTube channel Satahan Radio, which has more than 170,000 subscribers. He is known for his advocacy for human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy.

The incident has been condemned by human rights organisations, press freedom advocates, and journalists’ organisations, who condemned the assault and urged authorities to ensure his immediate release. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has launched an investigation into the incident, which will probe allegations of police brutality through Uduwaragedara’s arrest and detention.

The SLWJA said: “The incident has raised serious concerns about the freedom of the press and the right to free expression in our society. At the heart of a thriving democracy lies the freedom of the press, a fundamental pillar that safeguards transparency, accountability, and the dissemination of information to the public. The arrest of Tharindu Uduwaragedara, a dedicated journalist who has been ardently advocating for freedom of expression and democracy, is an alarming affront to these democratic values.”

The FMM said: “The Free Media Movement condemns this arrest considering it a serious incident, and requests the responsible parties take appropriate measures regarding the abuses that happened to Tharindu Uduwaragedara.”

The FMETU said: “There have been a number of Supreme Court Judgments and also recommendations of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka on how to protect the basic rights of the people and how the people should act in protest situations, but the police do not care. We are joining hands with IFJ to carry out the full involvement of the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions.”

The IFJ said: “The all-too-common detention and assault for those covering protest action represents the distinct need for safety measures for journalists and media workers in Sri Lanka. The IFJ condemns the arrest and abuse of Tharindu Uduwaragedara, and urges authorities and human rights bodies to launch a swift and transparent investigation into the incident.”