02/25/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Solidarity for missing journalist who opposed president

by Melani Manel Perera
Prageeth Ekanligoda backed opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka. A month after his disappearance, nothing is known about his fate. So far, the authorities have tried to avoid dealing with his wife’s requests for information and action.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Several media professionals, civil society representatives and ordinary citizens took part last night at 5.30 pm in a vigil in Colombo to remember political reporter Prageeth Ekanligoda who disappeared on the night of 24 January 2010. Holding candles and placards in solidarity with democracy, participants marched to Aleksandra Place.

According to friends of  Prageetha Eknaligoda, the journalist, who worked for Lanka e-News, was a supporter of Sarath Fonseka, the opposition candidate, who was arrested on 26 January after losing last month’s presidential election.

He added that the reporter’s disappearance, which is still clouded in mystery, is an attack against freedom of the press and a clear message “that dissent is not tolerated”.

“We condemn this brutal act and appeal for the re-establishment of real freedom to live peacefully in this land,” he said.

“After a month, nobody knows what happened to Prageeth,” said veteran journalist Gamini Viyangoda who spoke to AsiaNews. “I see this as a very dangerous situation in Sri Lanka. Even though it is said that there is democracy and freedom, holding election time to time is not democracy. It will be pointless and useless when citizens lose their basic rights [. . .] when they lose their freedom and lives. It is sad when [. . .] human rights are violated. We must all be able to talk, to write anything, to dissent. I hope this changes soon.”

Prageeth’s wife, Sandhya Eknaligoda, said she wrote to the president, “but got no answer.” Meanwhile, “our children want to have their father back and we have no idea where he might be.”

Prageeth Ekanligoda left home in the morning to go to work. After he did not come back, she went to the police the next day at 11.30 am to file a missing person report. However, “the police refused to treat my request and began dealing with the disappearance only two weeks later.”

Her complaint with the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission went nowhere as well. Her attorney filed a request with the Court of Appeal to have the government acknowledge that it is holding him in custody, but the request has not yet been adjudicated.

Viola Perera, coordinator for Women and Media Collective in Colombo, expressed her solidarity to Sandhya Ekanligoda.

“The continuing unexplained disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda is a chilling reminder of the dangers Sri Lankan journalists face,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). “The lack of response by authorities to his wife’s pleas for an investigation is frightening given the impunity with which journalists have been abused in Sri Lanka.”

On 29 January, the CPJ expressed alarm over reports that Sri Lankan journalists have been subjected to government intimidation, arrests, censorship, and harassment in the aftermath of the 26 January presidential election. According to many journalists, the situation has not improved since then.

According to unofficial data, 14 media professionals, including journalists, have vanished since 2006. No one has been charged with in their disappearance. By contrast, many other journalists have fled the country after receiving death threats (at least 11 since 2009), and many more have been attacked and some arrested.

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