TamilWeek, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2005
Heartbreak of a journalist

By Ranee Mohamed

Today’s story has no byline by Berty Mendis. For veteran photographer Berty Mendis
is trying to sit up despite his aching spine which took many a beating Tuesday
morning.

Berty Mendis and I set off with heavy hearts to the home of slain Lt. Colonel Meedin at
Eerawetiya Road in Kiribathgoda on Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. All the way we,
along with our driver Roshan, were discussing the loss and the sadness that the
family of this officer must feel at his sudden demise.

Being the wife of a military officer serving in the tense north east with whom Berty
Mendis is good friends too, this assignment bore a special touch to us both. I
imagined the loss, felt the pain and treated this as a personal story which on paper will
touch the hearts of all.

Our main aim was to get enough facts to portray this story in a way that would draw
light to the service of Lt. Col Meedin and the sacrifice he made for his country.

It was with these feelings and heavy hearts that we found ourselves on the long and
winding road that led to the home of Lt. Col. Meedin.

On arriving there we were told by neighbours to park the vehicle at the top of the little
lane and walk there as it was not possible to get a vehicle in there. As we walked in,
we asked for the wife of the slain officer. We were told by the friendly women there
that she was in a room.

We were asked to speak to his brother Brigadier Meedin who acknowledged us with a
nod. But sadly, as we tried to capture his life story, we were met with abuse and
subsequent assault.

On seeing the tape recorder, Brigadier Meedin suddenly shouted, "Are you taping all
this?" When replied in the affirmative, Meedin asked for the tape recorder. Handing
over the tape, we told Meedin that he can have the tape but we want the recorder
back. It was at this point that he began to shout "Are you coming to my house and
telling me what to do?" As we took the recorder from him and walked out of the house
he began to yell "bloody b***h, bloody b*****d," and then in a rage of fury he ran
behind us and assaulted photographer Berty Mendis.

If he had assaulted me it would have been better, for looking at our senior
photographer taking the merciless beating was too much to bear. But like a true
journalist Mendis bore the shots, he did not waver, he did not run. We continued to
walk not increasing our pace, not running, and not being shaken by this attack. Then
a group of about 15 soldiers in civvies ran behind us.

Shouting abuse, they manhandled us, pushing us, hitting Berty Mendis and
surrounding us. They knew we were journalists and if they thought deeper they knew
that their greater harm has come and gone — here we were, media persons only
trying to write a tribute about their senior officer.

For the first time in our lives we experienced the fear of death — we experienced what
it is like to be surrounded, to be on the verge of death. Our cameras were snatched
and our tape recorder and our mobile phones were also grabbed by the gang. At this
point the whole neighbourhood was outside, looking at us journalists trying to do our
duty and the enraged men circling us.

It was just then that we saw The Sunday Leader vehicle and we slowly walked towards
the vehicle as the maddening crowd of military men shouted abuse and threatened us
with beatings and death.

This is the life of a journalist. This is the way the story was never written — the story
about an army officer who supposedly sacrificed his life, and almost ours.

[Courtesy: The Morning Leader]
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