“It’s One of the Worst Crimes in the World”: Wife of ‘Disappeared’ Journalist

Sandya Eknaligoda

Sandya Eknaligoda wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda with their two sons Sathyajith Sanjaya and Harith Danajaya.

On Jan. 24, 2010, Prageeth Eknaligoda, a Sri Lankan journalist and cartoonist, disappeared shortly after leaving work. A few days earlier, he had published an article critical of President Rajapaksa. Local residents told the Sri Lankan press that they had seen a white van without numbered plates close to his house around the time of his disappearance.

Prageeth had earlier been abducted in August, 2009 by a group who arrived in a white van; that time, he was released the following day, with his abductors saying that they had made a mistake. But since Jan. 24, 2010, no one has heard from him.

Over recent decades, Sri Lanka has experienced tens of thousands of enforced disappearances during civil conflict, with government forces or their agents detaining people and then denying all knowledge of their whereabouts. In virtually all cases, no one has been held accountable for these crimes.

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Finding the Disappeared

Gao Zhisheng with his family.

Disappeared human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng with his family. © AI

On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared.  We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of  the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances.  Here’s how you can join us:

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Remembering The Disappeared

Amnesty International condemns all enforced disappearances as crimes under international law.  And on August 30, we’ll be doing something about them.

Sandya Eknaligoda

Sandya Eknaligoda wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, Sri Lanka, 10 January 2011

An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is arrested or abducted by the state or agents of the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.

Enforced disappearances take place around in the world, including in countries such as China, Nepal, Chad, Sri Lanka and North Korea.  In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of enforced disappearances occurred during decades of civil conflict on the island.  One recent example is the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing after work on Jan. 24, 2010.

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Speak Out For Imprisoned Journalists On World Press Freedom Day

Shi Tao, serving a 10 year sentence in China for writing an email.

Sending an e-mail seems harmless enough, but Shi Tao has been in prison for it for over six years.  His crime: working as a journalist and exposing censorship.

In that e-mail, Shi Tao commented on Chinese authorities’ directive to downplay the 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists. When a journalist speaks out for human rights and the lives of others in China he risks his own — even in a digital world of e-mail and the web.

And how appropriate that today, World Press Freedom Day, focuses on media freedom in the digital age.  World Press Freedom Day was established by the United Nations as a tribute to journalists, celebrating the very rights that Shi Tao cannot enjoy: the fundamental human right to freedom of expression.  All over the world, journalists constantly face imprisonment, violence, intimidation, detainment and even torture for reporting on human rights violations.

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Don't Forget the Disappeared in Sri Lanka

Today is August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, observed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to remember victims of “enforced disappearance“  around the world and to press for justice for them and their families.  An “enforced disappearance”  occurs when agents of the state detain someone and the state then denies any knowledge of the person’s status or whereabouts.   Over the past several decades, Sri Lanka has experienced tens of thousands of enforced disappearances, the vast majority of which remain unresolved.  One recent example is that of the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing shortly after leaving work on Jan. 24.  Please write the Sri Lankan government and ask them to conduct an effective investigation into Mr. Eknaligoda’s disappearance and make the results public.  Please also work to get the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted.  Thanks.

Global Day of Action for Sri Lankan Journalist

Next  Tuesday, August 10, will be the 200th day since the Sri Lankan journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda went missing after work.  Amnesty International and other organizations have been calling on the Sri Lankan government to investigate his disappearance.  In Sri Lanka, the Alliance of Media Organizations (Alliance) will mark this day by holding a protest and a seminar.  The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is asking its affiliates to support the protest by contacting Sri Lankan embassies around the world on Tuesday to express concern over his disappearance.

Amnesty supports these actions by the Alliance and IFJ.  Please join in this day of action by doing the following on Tuesday, August 10:

1. Send an online letter to the Sri Lankan government asking them to effectively investigate Prageeth Eknaligoda’s disappearance, make the results public and hold accountable those responsible for his disappearance.

2. Call the Sri Lankan embassy in your country and express concern about his disappearance (in the U.S., the Sri Lankan Embassy‘s phone number is 202-483-4025).

It’s long past time for the Sri Lankan government to provide justice for him and his family.  With your help, we may see it happen.

Six months later, no sign of missing cartoonist

On Mar. 11, I wrote on this site about Prageeth Eknaligoda, the Sri Lankan journalist and cartoonist.  He’s been missing since leaving work on Jan. 24.  Amnesty Interrnational and other organizations (like the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders) have all expressed concern and have called on the Sri Lankan government to investigate his disappearance.

Well, it’s been six months since he disappeared and we haven’t seen any evidence of an effective investigation so far.  His wife, Sandhya Eknaligoda, has repeatedly said she holds the government responsible.  This past Saturday, she reportedly went to a famous Hindu temple and prayed for help in finding her husband, having lost faith in the Sri Lankan legal process.

The Sri Lankan government needs to live up to its responsibility here.  Please write to the government and ask that it conduct a proper, effective investigation into his disappearance and hold accountable those found responsible.  Thanks.

Tissa is finally free!

The Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam (often referred to as “Tissa“) is finally free!  As I wrote on this site earlier, Tissa had been sentenced last year to 20 years’ hard labor, after an unfair trial, for criticizing the Sri Lankan government’s conduct of the war against the Tamil Tigers in a couple magazine articles.  Amnesty International had adopted Tissa as a “prisoner of conscience,” since he was being prosecuted solely for his legitimate journalistic activities.  While the Sri Lankan government had announced on May 3  that President Rajapaksa had decided to pardon Tissa, as of June 9 the pardon still hadn’t been issued.  Nor did we know whether his rights would be fully restored, including the right to leave the country.

Well, his pardon has finally come through and he has gotten his passport back.  As the Committee to Protect Journalists has reported, Tissa arrived in Washington, DC yesterday morning.  Thank you very, very much to all those who wrote on his behalf; I’m sure it helped a lot in getting his freedom restored.

Now’s the time for the Sri Lankan government to take other steps to demonstrate its respect for media freedom and human rights, including determining the fate of the disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the emergency regulations.  I hope I’ll be able to report more good news again soon.

Six weeks on, no sign of missing cartoonist

Where’s Prageeth Eknaligoda?  On Jan. 24, the Sri Lankan cartoonist and journalist disappeared shortly after leaving work at the Lanka-e-News office.  Local residents reported seeing a white van without number plates close to his house around this time.  When his wife tried to lodge a complaint with the police the next day, she was detained for several hours at the police station.  In the days leading up to his disappearance, Mr. Eknaligoda had told a close friend that he believed he was being followed.

Prageeth Eknaligoda had previously been abducted last August by a group who also arrived in a white van; that time, he was released the following day.  White vans have been used in many abductions and enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, particularly since 2006, when the security forces or allied paramilitary groups stepped up attacks on government critics.  Prageeth Eknaligoda had been actively reporting on the Sri Lankan presidential election, which took place on Jan. 26.  Shortly before his disappearance, he had completed a comparative analysis of the two main candidates, coming out in favor of the opposition candidate, Sarath Fonseka (who lost in the election, which saw President Rajapaksa re-elected).

His wife, Sandhya Eknaligoda, believes he was abducted by the government because of his criticism of President Rajapaksa.

Please write the Sri Lankan government and ask that his disappearance be promptly investigated and those responsible held accountable.  Thanks.