Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The IGP must explain the circumstances of Prageeth's disappearance - AHRC

Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda, a journalist, disappeared on the 4th January, 2010 and despite enormous efforts made by his family and friends, media groups and human rights organisations locally and internationally to bring this to the attention of the government. No serious investigation has been made into his disappearance.

Prageeth's wife, once again publically protested this weekend complaining that the state has remained silent on the issue and demanded to know the whereabouts of her husband. She has campaigned consistently since her husband disappearance demanding her rights as a wife and a citizen for a proper investigation. The government has failed to give a reasonable answer to her plea.

Ministers initially tried to create the impression that they have received information from the police about the actual circumstances surrounding the disappearance they would reveal the information to the public soon. The insinuation is that there is no state involvement in this disappearance; that it was the result of a private dispute, the police have, in fact, investigated and are aware of the 'real circumstances'. However, that position soon changed and the various promises to finalise the investigation soon, which was made in public when the journalists questioned the government spokesman, were not kept.

However, when on this weekend, the journalists contacted the police spokesman on Prageeth's disappearance and the current state of the investigations, the reply was that due to the elections the police did not have time to spare for this matter. This reply smacks of deep cynicism on the issue of forced disappearances. A forced disappearance is one of the most heinous of crimes and there is no duty for a law enforcement agency than to investigate such a serious matter. When they stated that, due to the election, Prageeth's disappearance could not be investigated the police are trying to create the impression that this is neither a matter of priority or great concern to anyone.

Furthermore there was even propaganda that claimed that as Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda is not an important journalist and therefore his disappearance is not a matter of significance. There is no issue about superior inferior citizens when the issue of a person's basic rights comes to be questioned. The fact of the matter is that a Sri Lankan citizen has disappeared. It is clearly stated in international law that the obligation of explaining the disappearance lies with the state. It is not an option for the state to select cases for investigation when grave crimes are involved.

There is no crime greater than a forced disappearance. The point that has been raised repeatedly by Prageeth's wife throughout is that she suspects a government agency for being responsible for the loss of her husband. This is a serious allegation on the part of a family and such a complaint needs to be respected by any law enforcement agency or government. It is only by a credible investigation that such an allegation could be proved or disproved.

However, the behaviour of the state in trying to prevent the investigation into the matter clearly shows that there is a deliberate attempt to hush up this investigation. So their silence on the matter is a deliberate silence which indicates the intention on the part of the government to sweep this matter under the carpet so that it might be forgotten.

If the matter of a forced disappearances is forgotten then virtually the issue of citizenship in a country becomes meaningless. Today a serious question raised by this forced disappearances and the response of the government and the policing system is that there is hardly any meaning in citizenship except for those who are willing to completely abandon their rights on behalf of the patronage of the politicians in the ruling regime. This system of patronage has spread so deeply to the effect that those who do not enjoy such patronage also do not have the right to justice.

Thus the forced disappearance of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda and the poor response from the government is an indication of a serious crisis relating to the protection of rights of individuals in Sri Lankan society. Already the country has catastrophically fallen into lawlessness and the rule of law system has been seriously jeopardised. The present attitude towards disappearances is even indicative of a greater collapse to come which is becoming increasingly visible. Under these circumstances the fear goes deeper and the meaning of anything is being undermined.

It is the duty of all citizens to face up to the gravity of the problem. The issue is not about the views of a particular journalist or about his status. The issue is about the causing of a disappearance which no person in a government or a society has any right to do. It is this problem that the citizens of the country and those concerned with the human liberty of citizens in Sri Lanka should now face and address.

© Asian Human Rights Commission

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