For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Basil Fernando (AHRC)
There are discussions about Prageeth Eknaliagoda’s abduction and disappearance that go something like this:
Was he a journalist or was he not a journalist?
Was he a great journalist or was he a lesser journalist?
Was he abducted and made to disappear due his activities as a journalist or was the abduction and disappearance unrelated to his journalism?
One wonders what MORAL ISSUE is involved in asking such questions and in making such distinctions.
It appears that some maintain that the abduction and disappearance would be of lesser significance if he was not a journalist, and of greater significance if he was a journalist; lesser significance if he was not a great journalist than if he was a great journalist; lesser significance if he was not abducted and made to disappear for his journalistic activities rather than if he was abducted and disappeared due to his journalistic activities.
The moral issue: Is the abduction and disappearance of a person who is not a journalist less important or less significant than the abduction and disappearance of a person who is a journalist?
If that be the case, what is the scale on which such moral grading might be based?
On the other hand, if there is no such basis to make a distinction about the moral wrong involved in an abduction and disappearance what is this whole debate about?
It appears that the whole aim is to say that there is no point in persisting with the call for a credible investigation into the abduction and the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneliagoda.
However, what is the moral logic involved in this objection? There is none at all.
The demand for an investigation into a crime (in this instance a universally recognized heinous crime), should be the most natural thing, irrespective of the status or the profession of the person. The state bears responsibility for accounting for all persons, irrespective of their job title.
What is the actual moral issue involved?
The state’s failure to credibly investigate the abduction and disappearance of Prageeth Ekneliagoda: That is the issue raised by the campaign on Prageeth’s behalf led by his wife and family and supported by others.
The continuity of this demand for a credible investigation seems to irritate some persons.
Why should such a demand irritate anyone?
The government’s irritation against such a demand for a credible investigation is not difficult to understand as such a demand is a direct criticism of the failure of the state to investigate. It may even imply that the government’s is deliberately obstructing the call for an investigation which would support the accusation of the family that the government is responsible for the abduction and disappearance in the first place.
Blaming the wife for calling for investigations into the disappearance of her husband:
The underlying target of those who engage in attacking this campaign is the wife of the disappeared person. It is one of the most basic moral rights of persons who love a family member to demand justice for their loved ones. A society that does not even respect this right is very rotten indeed.
Prageeth Ekneliagoda’s disappearance points to one of the greatest moral and legal wrongs in Sri Lanka relating to disappearances. It is a heinous crime under international law but it not a crime under Sri Lankan law. The state refuses to conduct credible investigations into this particular crime, which obviously means that the state has reasons not to investigate this particular crime.
Sri Lankan intellectuals also show no interest in stopping this great moral wrong. Some directly or indirectly support the government in this regard by attempting to stop campaigns calling for credible investigations into allegations about disappearances.
Replacing investigations with gossip
Investigative journalism may be dead in Sri Lanka but gossip journalism thrives. The kind of gossip that is created is cheap; some may argue that gossip is always cheap.
One writes that Prageeth was a pauper and was broke and is therefore in hiding to make up a case for claiming refugee status in a developed country. Another writes that he is a rich land owner with means and therefore not a working journalist.
When Richard Soyza was abducted and killed someone said in parliament that he was killed due to a homosexual problem. It is well known that Richard’s mother spent the last years of her life disgusted with the kind of society where justice had no moving power.
This kind of thing is published as serious journalism. Whoever is behind the disappearance of Prageeth must be having what he thinks is the last laugh. Of course, dead men cannot answer accusations and for that very reason greater restraint is entertained in making accusations against the dead. But this is not so in Sri Lanka.
Right to Truth
Prageeth’s family and also the public has the right to know the truth. That is not something to laugh at. There is no sense in trying to make a joke out of a disappearance.
There is some kind of a cultural root from which such cheapness arises. It has happened not once, but tens of thousands of times. Everyone knows that there has been tens of thousands of disappearances in the South, North and East but there has been no expression of outrage, only cheap gossip.
What is that cultural root? It is worth examining at one time or another.
By Basil Fernando