For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
France said yesterday there was “no evidence at all” to suggest that journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, who disappeared in Sri Lanka three years ago, was living in that country. “We have no official confirmation whatsoever,” a spokesperson for the French Embassy in Colombo said.
The UPFA’s Puttalam District Parliamentarian Arundika Fernando told Parliament on Wednesday that Ekneligoda was living in France under disguise. In a clarifying statement on Friday, he claimed he had met Mr. Ekneligoda together with a onetime Sri Lankan journalist Manjula Wediwardena. He claimed that the cartoonist had shaved his head and was in disguise.
A private TV channel on Friday night featured Mr. Fernando in a programme where he repeated the same claims. He said he was a good friend of Mr. Wediwardena. In the MP’s presence, the TV channel telephoned Mr. Wediwardena in France. “I do not know Mr. Fernando at all. I have never met him,” Mr. Wediwardena replied.
Official Government spokesperson Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella dissociated himself from Mr. Fernando’s remarks. He told Thursday’s media briefing it was the law enforcement authorities who would have to carry out investigations. Sandya Ekneligoda, the missing journalist’s wife, told the Sunday Times, “The statement by Mr. Fernando in Parliament has caused tremendous embarrassment to our family. My children did not attend school. They had been asked whether theywere playing the fool when they said that their father was missing.”
She said that in a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa she had told him that if Mr. Fernando’s claims were correct, the Government should bring her husband back to Sri Lanka. “In the alternative, I have said, the MP should provide credible evidence of my husband’s whereabouts so we can get in touch,” she said.
Free Media Movement (FMM) Convener Sunil Jayasekara told the Sunday Times that the CID should question the MP to seek more information about his claim. “We think the MP is using Parliamentary privileges and trying to mislead the people. He is claiming that a journalist had introduced Mr. Ekneligoda to him when he visited France in January this year. However the journalist Manjula Wediwardana has sent an e-mail to us saying he never met the MP in France or introduced any Mr. Ekneligoda to him,” the FMM convener said.
By Chris Kamalendran