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Global Action on Missing Sri Lankan Journalist

IFJ Calls for Global Action on Missing Sri Lankan Journalist

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) extends its support to the protest planned for August 10 by the Alliance of Media Organisations in Sri Lanka, to mark 200 days since the disappearance of cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda.

The protest (or satyagraha) and a seminar will be held in Colombo to urge the authorities fully investigate the whereabouts of Eknaligoda.

The IFJ calls upon its affiliates worldwide to show solidarity by contacting their local Sri Lankan missions to express their concerns at the police and security agencies’ failure to trace the missing journalist.

“The IFJ calls upon authorities in Sri Lanka to show a greater sense of purpose over this case,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

“Statements from official agencies, including the police and the Ministry for Information, have been far from reassuring, since they have invariably failed to deliver on promises that information about Eknaligoda’s whereabouts would be made available.

“Further, there have been suggestions from official agencies dismissing Eknaligoda’s disappearance as possibly self-staged.”

A habeas corpus petition filed by Eknaligoda’s family is pending in the Colombo High Court. Six hearings have been held, most recently on July 21. Early hearings were adjourned because the bench was purportedly not up to full strength to hear a case of this nature. It was only after the third hearing that the bench of two judges began to deal substantively with the case.

At the fifth hearing, police assured the court that they would have some information available by the sixth hearing. But the police failed to turn up at the hearing on July 21. The judge ordered that notice be sent to them again. The next hearing is scheduled for September.

Reportedly, Eknaligoda was last seen by the staff of Lanka-e-News (www.lankaenews.com), the news portal where he worked on a freelance basis, as he left the office about 8.30 pm on January 24.

Polls were scheduled to open in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections less than 36 hours later.

As he left, Eknaligoda reportedly had phone contact with a friend. He expressed his inability to meet the friend since he had already taken a three-wheeler taxi towards meeting another friend. The identity of the person he was going to meet remains unknown.

The police have not revealed the call records from Eknaligoda’s phone or managed to trace his cell phone.

Eknaligoda was a cartoonist with the state-owned Lake House group of newspapers for long and resigned in 1996, reportedly because he came under pressure after defying a request from the then President to do a cartoon ridiculing the leader of the opposition.

In recent times, he has been a contributor to the Lanka-e-News portal and a Sinhala language paper, Colombo.

He has been involved in left-wing politics since the 1970s and in November 2009 took up an active role in the presidential election campaign for the former Sri Lankan army commander, Sarath Fonseka. He addressed a number of public meetings in support of Fonseka in Colombo and elsewhere.

Sandhya Eknaligoda, his wife, has since been battling alone and against great odds. Their two sons aged 16 and 13 are suffering psychological stress and have barely been able to attend regular school.

Prageeth Eknaligoda is an insulin-dependent diabetic who underwent open-heart surgery in 2005.

In August 2009, Eknaligoda was abducted late one evening while on his way home and held till the early hours next morning. He was reportedly kept blindfolded and heard nothing from his captors to reveal their motives. All the currency that he carried was taken away, as too was an ATM cash card. The family however did not detect any illicit withdrawals from Eknaligoda’s bank accounts after this episode.

As part of an international coalition working for press freedom and journalists’ rights in Sri Lanka, the IFJ commits itself to supporting Eknaligoda’s family through this moment of trial.

The August 10 protest in Colombo will be held at 3pm in Viharamahadevi Park, followed by a seminar at the Public Library.

ENDS

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