Prageeth Eknaligoda press accreditation
On 7 June, the Sri Lankan government passed a bill that would allow more than 65,000 people to be recognised as missing, most of them during the civil war (1983 – 2009). Strangely enough, until now, the state did not even recognise them as missing, all claims were left in the limbo of institutional oblivion.
If approved by Parliament, the law will provide for the issuing of “certificates of absence”, which would be accompanied by measures to cover various needs of the relatives and to be able to follow up on active investigations and reactivate abandoned or never investigated cases.
Prageeth Eknaligoda, is one more of these disappeared persons. He is a cartoonist and journalist who worked for the web and other media in Sri Lanka Lanka-e-News and other media in Sri Lanka.
This was not the first time Prageeth had disappeared. On 28 August 2009, Prageeth was abducted near his home. He was taken away with his hands tied and blindfolded in a white van. He was released the next day.
Prageeth left his work in Colombo on the night of 24 January 2010, saying he was going to meet an old friend before returning home. A friend called Prageeth’s mobile phone at 8:30 pm, only to hear a strange noise before he was cut off. That was the last he heard of him. He was then 50 years old (1(There are several versions of the account of the day of his disappearance)
It was two days before the presidential elections were due to be held in Sri Lanka.
Prageeth Eknaligoda was working on an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Sri Lankan military in the fight against Tamil separatists.
A few days earlier, the journalist had told a friend that he suspected someone was following him. One of his colleagues told Reporters Without Borders that Prageeth had received threats because of his political analysis. A week before he disappeared, he had published a lengthy comparison of the two main presidential candidates in which he took a position in favour of the opposition candidate.
Update 28/07/2016 Interview withSandya Eknaligoda
Further investigation was delayed. It eventually pointed to the possibility that Prageeth Eknaligoda had been interrogated, tortured and then killed by military personnel at a camp in Girithale. One of the possible causes was a book he was preparing in which he questioned the reputation of the family of the then president, Mahinda Rajapakse. In his texts, he linked him to a case of financial fraud along with some of his close associates.
In response to this accusation, former President Mahinda Rajapakse denied any connection with the alleged death of the journalist. He accused the new government of orchestrating a political vendetta.
In 2015, Sri Lankan police arrested four members of the military for possible links to the journalist’s disappearance. Those four military personnel were charged by three other suspects.
A collection of lies
Everything about this case is bizarre and has been riddled with irregularities, contradictions and lies.
Initially, when his wife came forward to file a complaint, she had trouble doing so and was accused of lying, going so far as to claim that her husband was hiding in his own house.
There were also the inevitable rumours and conspiracies: it was said that Prageeth Eknaligoda was neither a cartoonist nor a journalist, and that no media outlet was known to have published his texts or cartoons. Others sowed doubts. Although there were many references to what were supposed to be his cartoons and some of his articles.
But more surprising are the statements of prominent politicians. First it was an adviser to the then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa who assured Prageeth Eknaligoda’s wife, Sandya Priyangani Eknaligodathat her husband would “reappear”. No further details.
The police were supposed to be investigating further. It later emerged that they showed no interest in finding the cartoonist. Nor did they offer any solid information to the family.
The story of Eknaligoda’s disappearance was getting murkier and murkier. In order to hide the circumstances of his disappearance, government ministers and other relevant figures made statements full of contradictions.
In March 2010, the president’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, claimed in an interview with the Daily Mirror that Eknaligoda had “organised his own disappearance”.
Contract killing, Dematagoda Chaminda’s version of events
In November 2011, Dematagoda Chamindain November 2011, a well-known “underworld” criminal linked to gangs vying for control of the drug trade, Sirinayaka Pathiranage Chaminda Ravi Jayanath, told the CID that a group of people led by him had dumped the lifeless body of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda in the sea off the Negombo lagoon.
Demtagoda Chaminda claimed to be a close associate of MP Duminda Silva also known as Kudu Duminda.
Chaminda stated that he was not aware of the identity of the persons who had thrown him into the sea. Until the chief (Duminda) told a party at the JAIC Hilton that it was a journalist and he later found out that the dead person was Prageeth Eknaligoda.
Dematagoda Chaminda said that the bodies had been wrapped in jute sacks and stone blocks had been tied to their feet. He also claimed that the chief had told them that this work was commissioned by the “big boss” (the Defence Secretary). He added that he wanted his story to be known and spread in case someone killed him because of his accusations.
Sandyha, and her two children, pose with Prageeth Eknaligoda’s photo. Photo:Amnesty International
Sandya Eknaligoda has not ceased her search for him, nor has she stopped fighting to shed light on the causes of her husband’s disappearance, getting several international organisations involved. Perhaps the most active has been Amnesty International, which continues to keep the campaign active #whereisprageeth
Right after the disappearance, she filed complaints and grievances at several police stations and later at the National Human Rights Commission. Sandya did not find much support from these institutions at first, rather hostility and disinterest in accepting and dealing with her complaints. He then filed a habeas corpus petition with the court of appeal. She also wrote to the president and the president’s wife, pleading for the first lady’s intervention to help find Prageeth.
She demonstrated outside parliament with her children and handed out copies of the appeals to parliamentarians. She also went to the Galle literary festival and handed out copies of the appeals to writers and the public. He organised numerous protests, sit-ins and vigils in Colombo.
Sandya with her children and other protesters in January 2015
In addition, he worked with Prageeth’s friends and other interested persons to publish two books of his articles and two editions of a book compiling his cartoons.
Books of Prageeth’s articles and vignettes
Searching for answers beyond
While continuing her fight to find her husband, she also became concerned about the problems faced by Tamils, especially in the north of the country.(Source)
Sandya also sought help from the international community. She lodged formal complaints with various UN bodies to which the Sri Lankan government agreed to be a party.
When Mohan Peiriswhen the former Attorney General, the former Prosecutor General, claimed at the UN Commission against Torture that Prageeth was living abroad as a refugee, Sandya wrote to the Committee to ask for an explanation.
Sandya then launched a campaign, determined to bring Peiris to testify before the Sri Lankan court of law. Despite resistance from the Sri Lankan authorities, Sandya’s persistence succeeded in forcing Moham Peiris to appear in court to reveal what he knew.
The great testimony that was expected did not come, Peiris merely retracted his statement to the UN Committee against Torture and said he did not know where Prageeth was and that he did not remember who had said he was in exile (3)
But she did not give up the search. She personally delivered a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, met with the UN Resident Representative in Colombo and travelled to the US and Europe several times to give lectures on Prageeth, and other missing persons in Sri Lanka.
His testimony in Geneva during the UN Human Rights Council sessions on 11 March 2011 came to be ridiculed, and even discredited and criminalised by a Sri Lankan court. Her “crime”, according to a prosecutor, was that her efforts to try to find her husband were bringing the country into disrepute (sic).
In June 2013, Arundhika Fernando, a member of the party’s parliament, claimed in Parliament that Ekatma was in exile ( ) Sri Lanka Freedom Party arundhika Fernando, a party MP, claimed in Parliament that Eknaligoda was living in France, was in exile there and had contact with his wife.(1) ,(2)
1000 days protest (2012).Photo: DushiYanthini Kanagasabapapathipillai
To this day, Sandya continues her struggle to find her husband.
Sandya attending to the media in January 2016.
The white vans
The island of Sri Lanka, known as Ceylon until 1972, was plagued by a civil war that began in 1983 and ended in May 2009. It pitted Tamils against Sinhalese. The war left between 70,000 and 100,000 dead, some 250,000 Tamil refugees, as many others fled the island, and an unknown number of people, some estimates say 200,000, lost everything and/or suffered from starvation.
In 2009, some groups reported that the government continued to persecute all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a threat to national security. Hence the rumours of the white vans.
To this day there is still talk of death squads and of assassinations and kidnappings with white vans in which dissidents and journalists are made to disappear.
Related: 68 cases in other countries