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Sandhya Ekneligoda, Wife of missing Sri Lankan journalist speaks out to WSWS

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Sandhya Priyangani Ekneligoda

By Panini Wijesiriwardane and Wasantha Rupasinghe

Sandhya Priyangani Ekneligoda, wife of disappeared Sri Lankan journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, recently spoke to the World Socialist Web Site about her ongoing struggle to discover what happened to her husband, and the continuing harassment of the Sri Lankan authorities.

Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared on 24 January 2010, after he went to report on Sri Lankan presidential election meetings.

Police investigations have drawn the usual blanks and a habeas corpus case, originally filed by Sandhya Ekneligoda in February 2010, is only now being heard at the Colombo Magistrates Court.

Prageeth Ekneligoda supported former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, the main bourgeois rival of President Mahinda Rajapakse, during the 2010 presidential election. Fonseka was arbitrarily arrested immediately after the poll and imprisoned on various frame-up charges. Ekneligoda frequently criticised the Rajapakse administration—especially the president and his brothers—over injustice and corruption and is believed to have been disappeared because of these exposures.

Over the past two years, 50-year-old Sandhya Ekneligoda, the mother of two teenage boys, has written to numerous local and international human rights organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), seeking their help.

She also sent letters to President Rajapakse and other state officials, who have ignored her appeals.

“After the disappearance of my husband,” Ekneligoda told the WSWS, “the government began telling lies in order to divert the sentiment of the masses. Former Attorney General Mohan Peiris told the UNHRC that Prageeth had sought refuge in a foreign country, so I wrote him a letter asking about my husband’s whereabouts. I never received a reply.”

Ekneligoda explained what happened after she participated in a side event at the recent UNHCR sessions in Geneva. The UNHRC adopted a US-sponsored resolution over Sri Lankan human rights abuses in its war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Sri Lankan government bitterly opposed the resolution, despite its very limited character.

Ekneligoda said: “With the help of international human rights organisations I went to Geneva to tell my story to the world. For the understanding of those in attendance, I tried to explain the anti-democratic and repressive environment that is increasingly developing in Sri Lanka. I thought this would help to make people aware of the roots of my husband’s disappearance.

“Speaking about the militarisation of the country, I explained how the military is occupying the north and east. I presented some pictures and described how the families who were displaced during the war are now living in tents, huts and damaged structures, while by contrast there are growing numbers of tourist hotels and war monuments.”

Ekneligoda told the WSWS that she was harassed by several members of the Sri Lankan delegation. UK Sinhala Association president Douglas Wickramarathne attempted to ridicule her, declaring: “How can you see yourself as a victim? You came here in a happy mood.”

Echoing the Rajapakse government, Wickramarathne and several other Sri Lankan delegates accused her, and others participating in the Geneva event, of being “traitors.”

Sri Lanka’s state-owned press and television networks published their photographs while media minister Mervin Silva, who is infamous for threatening journalists, publicly branded several Sri Lankan reporters and human right activists in Geneva as “bastards.”

Silva told a Sri Lankan public meeting that “these people” were “betraying us in Geneva.” He named Sunanda Deshapriya, Nimalka Fernando and Poddala Jayantha, and boasted: “I’m the one who chased [journalist] Poddala Jayantha from Sri Lanka.”

The media minister declared that he would not hesitate to “break the limbs” of the named journalists “if they set foot” on the island. Confident that his threats would be endorsed by Rajapakse, Silva said his ministerial position was granted by Rajapakse and “will remain unchanged while he is in power.”

Ekneligoda told the WSWS that Silva’s outburst was an “attempt to provoke the Sinhala racists against us. Our lives are in a grave danger. What’s the wrong I did? The only thing I’ve done is taken the path of democratic rights.”

Explaining the official response to her husband’s disappearance, she said: “On the night my husband failed to return home I went to Homagama police station to report it but they refused to open a case.

The police finally accepted my complaint two weeks later.” When she later attempted to get a copy of her complaint, police officers told her they had lost the logbook in which it had been entered. In August 2011, the appeal courts decided to take up her February 2010 habeas corpus case and these proceedings are currently underway in the Magistrates Court (MC).

“On March 26, when the case was taken to the MC, I was questioned by the Deputy Solicitor General Shavendra Fernando who represented the state,” Ekneligoda said. “He asked more questions about my visit to Geneva. My counsel pointed out that this had nothing to do with the case, but he kept asking me why I went to Geneva, who sponsored me, how much money I was getting per day, and so on.”

Ekneligoda told the WSWS that even after explaining the purpose of her Geneva visit—to raise concerns about her missing husband—the state counsel accused her of lobbying against the government and the country. “It was a direct violation of my democratic rights,” she added.

Prageeth Ekneligoda’s disappearance is part of broader assault on democratic rights that has intensified under the Rajapakse government. The police-state laws developed during the civil war remain in place. The denunciation of government opponents as “unpatriotic” takes places as “disappearances” by pro-government death squads continue.

Various Sri Lankan human rights organisations claim that appeals to the US and other international powers can protect basic rights. This is an illusion. The US sponsored the recent UNHRC resolution not to defend democratic rights but as a means for exerting pressure on the Rajapakse government to distance itself from China.

In the past ten years, 17 journalists and other media workers have been killed and around 50 journalists have fled Sri Lanka in fear of their lives. courtesy: The World Socialist Website

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10 Comments

  1. There is little hope that Pradeep Ekneligoda is alive. The people responsible for his fate need to examine their conscience, if they have any. What have they achieved or has the country achieved anything by their dastardly inhuman acts.
    We are fast losing any advantage gained by the defeat of the LTTE. Instead we are building up a reputation for human rights violation and killing our own people. History may remember our leaders not as saviours but as war criminals.

  2. Safa,

    You know Pradeep is no more by saying “There is little hope that Pradeep Ekneligoda is alive.” but your worries are about your leaders being branded as war criminals.

    What a human being you are? Why you and like minded are not even caring of a poor woman’s grievances?

    “..The people responsible for his fate..” are worst than animals, they do not have any conscience.

    “…has the country achieved anything by their dastardly inhuman acts….” Yes certainly, they had shut the voice of muslims in 1957 and continue to shut mouth of Tamils till now?

    Sandhya: I do not know what to say but I’m praying for the all widowed woman in my country and you are not left alone.

  3. –“I explined how the Miltary is occupying North and the East.I showed some pictures and explianed how the people who were displaced by the War are now living in Tents , Huts and Damaged Structures.While by contrst there are growing number of Tourist Hotels and War Monuments.”—-Mrs Ekenaligoda explianing her side show to the UNHCR Delegates.

    Didn’t the high profile NGOs,the Diasporians, LTTE Rump. TNGTE, GFT and myriad of others, including the BBC hold main shows for the UNHCR delegates?

    Didn’t they have copies of Darusman Report for the past two years?.

    Shouldn’t you be in Srilanka, holding a Vigil, with riligious activities to invoke blessings to protect your husband?.

    Shouldn’t you be extending an Olive Branch to the authorities to persuade them to help find the whereabouts of him?.

    And finally, have you sounded out the Lankaweb News letter, which seems to have highly intimate knowledge of the workings of the Srilanka Defence Ministry, including the nitty gritty of the White Van abductions?.

  4. ‘The “rotten apples” are vanishing’

    Would M.Sivanathan like to state what he means by ‘rotten apples’ and why he asks for them to vanish when these people are meant to be Sri Lankan citizens and thus should be afforded all protection and rights by the state including right to legal representation? By past experience he will not bother replying to this question but will talk about US govt abducting and raping people whilst not bothering to give us any evidence, only that he was the ‘witness’ to this happening. He will also say how we were supporting LTTE and JVP when they were doing this, when we have told him otherwise 1000 times.

  5. Allen

    I am not particularly worried if our leaders are branded as war criminals. That should be their look out not mine. What is worrying is that people are being abducted and murdered by death squads operating under the guise of patriotic forces.
    It is now quite obvious that these are under the aegis of the secretary of defence who has been given unlimited powers by his brother the president.
    There is no hope for poor people like Sandya Ekneligoda except as suggested by Kalu Albert to hold religous vigils and appeal to the gods. People in Sri Lanka have been brainwashed to the extent that decent people like Mr Sivanathan think it is OK to get rid of ‘bad apples’. Human life has become as cheap as rotten apples in this wonderland of Asia.

  6. Safa,

    I’m very suspecious about your saying “….What is worrying is that people are being abducted and murdered by death squads operating under the guise of patriotic forces….” because this type illegal activities of legal forces have been happening more than two decades in Tamil areas of whole Sri Lanka. Worst target of our forces were people who do not know Sinhala at all.

    You was/are not care when a Tamil or one of other minorities was disappeared. Is’nt it? You might know how many Tamil mothers complained about disappearances of their husbands/sons/daughters to same government forces. Their voices were silenced by intimidation tactics and/or by making disappearance of another family member. All complains made are still available in papers but no resolution reached yet.

    As I hear today, Sandhya, a Sinhalese mother is also undergoing with the same type of intimidation used against Tamil mothers by the same legal forces. But she fights back for her democratic rights till finding her husband’s whereouts.

  7. Allan

    I am against the killing of innocent people, be they Tamils, Sinhalese or Muslim, be it by the LTTE, Government, Police, Armed forces or other Paramiltary Groups. No one has the right to take a human life other than in self defence or through due legal process.
    Both Tamils, Sinhalese and all Sri Lankans have gone through much suffering throughout this conflict. Now that the conflict has ceased it is neccesary to resolve all issues for a better and prosperous Sri Lanka for all its citizens.
    Instead we see the selfish attempts of our bigoted leaders to suppress the people and consolidate their hold on this country. So it is neccesary for people to be informed and to speak out against the unjust actions of the regime. The worst we can do is to remain silent while innocent mothers in the North and South have to suffer the loss of their loved ones.

  8. Kalu Albert writes: ”Didn’t the high profile NGOs,the Diasporians, LTTE Rump. TNGTE, GFT and myriad of others, including the BBC hold main shows for the UNHCR delegates?

    Indeed they did Albert and the highly professional SL diplomatic team were extremely successful in countering this propoganda as shown by Sri Lanka losing UNHRC vote and choosing to close many of their embassies in Europe

    “Shouldn’t you be in Srilanka, holding a Vigil, with riligious activities to invoke blessings to protect your husband?.”

    No need for meditation, candlelight vigil or any other religious activities Kalu when your master Gotabhaya is the one authorising the abductions. All that’s required is for foreign governments to openly protest and threaten tiny SL before the ‘man of the masses’ Mahinda orders them to be freed.

    “Shouldn’t you be extending an Olive Branch to the authorities to persuade them to help find the whereabouts of him?.”

    Kalu thinks it is the right of governments to abduct and murder their own people in the interest of ‘national security’ (many times without authorising death certificates or giving family members dead bodies so they can organise burial). Let us remind this fool how Mahinda Rajapaksa was going to UNHRC in 1990 to stop UNP govt abducting and murdering sinhala youths via death squads and how appealing to western govts is the only outlet people have to get justice (as opposed to praying and meditating as the idiotic Kalu suugests)

    “And finally, have you sounded out the Lankaweb News letter, which seems to have highly intimate knowledge of the workings of the Srilanka Defence Ministry, including the nitty gritty of the White Van abductions?.”

    Don’t worry Kalu, DBS Jeyaraj has given us all here a through understanding of white van abudctions and who is planning them. We overseas Tamils will continue to use this as a stick to beat SL in international forums so the mass-murderers Mahinda and Gotabhaya cannot hide such crimes behind Commonwealth Games and failed trips to Oxford Uni campus

  9. Dear Ramanan,

    Shouldn’t you lot also offer an Olive Branch, so that the fifty thousand odd Diasporians who rushed in their applications for Dual Citizenship can get their Lankan Passports?.

    Wouldn’t that be a great help to the Diasporians who want to go back for legit Business , Pleasure or whatever else?.

    Even your new ally Mr Guneratnam also would have taken up the Presidency of the new Liberation outfit, without embarrasing the Aussies, for safe keeping his new Passport.

Comments are closed.