Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Act now and send an appeal

Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared on January 24th. After one hundred days, he still remains missing. For more than three months, his wife Sandhya Ekneligoda has been waging a determined battle to find out his fate. In an exclusive interview, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka spoke to her about Prageeth and her courageous struggle to find him.

On the very first day of the new parliament, you distributed an appeal among all the parliamentarians demanding their intervention to find out about your husband Prageeth Ekneligoda. What was their response?

In my statement I appealed to all the new parliamentarians to help me to find Prageeth while pointing out the fact that the government has not taken any effective measures so far to find out what exactly happened to him. Since the government and the police remain tight lipped on the matter, I asked them to raise my problem in the parliament, as I cannot do that on my own. Even though the Police tried to prevent me from distributing the statement, I managed to hand it over to quite a lot of MPs. Except for hand full of them, the rest did not hesitate to accept it. As far as I know, one of the opposition parliamentarians has already demanded a debate on the matter. This may take place on the 5th of this month.

It is reported that a two day debate will commence today (04) focusing on the necessity of extending and revising the emergency laws. Are you hopeful that Prageeth’s issue will be taken up during this debate?

I wouldn’t say that I am totally hopeful or optimistic. But still, if such a debate opens up an opportunity to know whatever information that is available, that would be quite helpful because there is no other way for me to know what the police already knows. If the parliament can shed some light on the so called ongoing police investigation and to reveal the details of the probe, that would help me to figure out at least what happened to Prageeth.

But the police recently stated that they have found nothing which can be considered as a breakthrough, although a special team of investigators have been assigned to run the investigations. Are you satisfied with the nature of the ongoing investigation?

Actually, for several reasons I am not satisfied at all. Among other things, one of the main reasons for my frustration is the negative responses I received from the Police. Secondly, I am deeply sceptical about the way the investigations are being handled. Since the probe started, it has been transferred from one division to another. First it was handled by the Mirihana police and then the Colombo Crime Division took over the investigations. When it is transferred from one unit to another, instead of continuing from the point it was stopped, everything starts all over again from the beginning. The most primary thing should be to identify the person who rang Prageeth on January 24th, just before he went missing. Even this basic task has not been accomplished. Either they don’t say it for some reason or they simply do not know.

You have already made countless requests and appeals to the Sri Lankan government and the parliamentary opposition. But when it comes to international community and the countries who are backing the government, do you have any special request to make?

The most important thing I have to tell them is that Sri Lanka is a country where grave human rights violations are taking place. When any international government or an organization offers assistance to a country like Sri Lanka, it’s their responsibility to make sure that the governments in power does not violate the fundamental rights of its own citizens. They must give maximum priority to have a profound understanding about the actual state of human rights in the country. Every citizen should have a right to express his or her own opinion and to point out the wrongdoings of any person or institution. It’s not only a right, but even a responsibility of any sensible human being. That is what democracy is all about. If the rulers of this country cannot stand and tolerate any such criticism, then there is no guarantee the basic rights of the citizens will be safeguarded. Therefore it becomes a responsibility of the international governments to make sure that such basic rights remain unharmed.

On the International Press Freedom Day, the Sri Lankan government announced that the senior journalist J.S.Tissainayagam will be granted a “Presidential Pardon”. But while Tissa receives a “pardon”, the disappearance of Prageeth still remains unresolved. In your opinion, what lies behind these contradictory policies?

That is the tragic reality we are facing. They use one issue for their own propaganda while sweeping the other issues under the carpet. By doing so, they can easily ignore one issue and exploit the other for their own interests. By granting a pardon to Tissainayagam they simply try to portray themselves as a government that is concerned about human rights. Why should Tissa need to be pardoned? He always remained as an innocent person. He never committed a crime to be pardoned by someone. All what he did was to tell the truth, which in fact has become a crime in this country. That was exactly the same thing Prageeth tried to do as a journalist. If I am to quote one of Prageeth’s own words to describe Tissainayagam, he is a “butterfly” who would not harm anyone. Who said Tissainayagam was guilty? The same people who accused him and jailed him for a crime he did not commit are now granting him a pardon and want others to praise them for their generosity.

Do you feel safe to speak openly and to continue your struggle?

Frankly, I don’t know. I am already facing problems. Recently I received a call from someone supposed to be calling from Germany, saying that they want to help us to find Prageeth. They ask about Prageeth and his political opinions and told me that Prageeth is a traitor who does not deserve any help. This pattern may continue in the future as well. Nevertheless, I believe that I have three primary responsibilities: that is to find out what happened to Prageeth, to take care of my two children and to tell the truth.

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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