For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The wife of missing cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda is to request court to allow UPFA Puttlam District parliamentarian Arundika Fernando to be called as a witness when the Habeas Corpus case filed by her is taken up at the Homagama Magistrate’s court on Wednesday.
Sandya Ekneligoda told the Sunday Times she wanted the politician to disclose whatever details he knew about the whereabouts of her husband. The UPFA MP stirred a hornet’s nest by claiming in Parliament on June 5 that he had been introduced to Mr. Ekneligoda in France in January this year by journalist Manjula Wediwardena who lived in exile in Paris. Since then the politician has repeated his claim both in the print and electronic media.
“Some of the opposition MPs speak of journalists who have disappeared. One particular journalist you speak of is living in France in disguise. He left the country with the assistance of some embassies here. I have met with some of these journalists myself. The one I am talking of Prageeth Ekneligoda is living in France. The people who live there know about it. Please check and see,” the MP told Parliament.
However, Mr. Wediwardena vehemently denies that he ever met the politician in Paris. “I’ve lived in Paris for nearly three years and have never met Arundika. He and I studied in school but we are not friends,” Mr. Wediwardena said. The exiled journalist said that around March last year, Mr. Fernando had called him and had a chat with him after learning from a mutual friend he was living in France but they have had no contact since then.
Mr. Fernando is a frequent traveller to France where his parents have been residing for many years. Mr. Fernando told the Sunday Times that he would comment about the statement he made to Parliament and other media and promised to call back. However he did not call.
The new claims regarding the missing journalist also led to renewed interest in the Ekneligoda case by international media rights organisations. Bob Dietz, the Asia Programme Co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told the Sunday Times in an email interview that the so-called new revelations seem just another in a string of attempts by the government and its allies to muddle a tragic situation. “Resorting to such tactics only strengthens the suspicions that the government knows full well what has happened to Prageeth Ekneligoda,” he said.
Mr. Ekneligoda who worked for Lanka e News web site was last seen around 9 on the night of January 24, 2010. He had told colleagues he was meeting an identified friend and had the left office and has not been heard of since then. Mrs. Ekneligoda said that the investigations into her husband’s disappearance, which is now in the hands of the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) has drawn a blank with no headway made into ascertaining his whereabouts or what happened to him since that fateful day. “The Police have told me they have no information at all about what happened to Prageeth,” she told the Sunday Times.
When the Habeas Corpus case filed by Mrs. Ekneligoda was last heard in May at the Homagama Magistrate’s court, the investigating officer of the CCD who gave evidence told court that they had no new information about the whereabouts of the missing journalist. A CCD source told the Sunday Times that they were continuing the investigation but had no information about him being domiciled in another country.
Mrs. Ekneligoda is perturbed by the claim that her husband is living in France. “My husband does not have a passport. He has never travelled abroad. These claims seem to be an organised effort on the part of the Government to defuse questions that may arise regarding Prageeth’s disappearance when the UN Human Rights Commissioner visits Sri Lanka in August,” she said.
Commissioner Navi Pillai is scheduled to visit the country in August and the question of missing persons is likely to figure in discussions here. In March last year, Mrs. Ekneligdoa travelled to Geneva and addressed events on the sidelines of the Council’s session to draw attention to her husband’s disappearance.
Bob Dietz of the CPJ said he is not hopeful that in the wake of the new revelations, there will be enough international pressure on the Government to act to solve the case saying the UN had failed miserably at stepping in to help with this case. “Some of the Colombo diplomatic corps have pushed in the past, but the government’s tactic of stalling and using the Courts to tie up this case are proving to be effective. There is little or no outside push apart from some media support groups to resolve the case,” he said.
By Chandani Kirinde