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As election nears, pro-opposition journalist disappears

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, January 25, 2010 - The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the reported disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda, a political reporter for the Sri Lankan news Web site Lanka eNews.

Lanka eNews Editor Sandurwan Senadeera told news organizations that Ekneligoda was last seen leaving the office on Sunday evening. He told news outlets that he fears the reporter may have been abducted. In its own account, Lanka eNews described Ekneligoda as a political analyst who has supported opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonska, a retired general, in Tuesday's election. The presidential election has already been marred by widespread violence and accusations of cheating by both sides.

Lanka eNews has long been targeted for harassment by the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent who is seeking re-election in Tuesday's vote. In 2008, CPJ urged Rajapaksa to halt the Defense Ministry's practice of denouncing Lanka eNews and other news outlets on its official Web site.

"We are deeply concerned by the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda. Sri Lanka's elections are surrounded by violence, and it is legitimate to fear for the safe return of Ekneligoda," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. The abduction of journalists is a recurring problem in Sri Lanka. Many local journalists say the government has permitted a climate of impunity that emboldens the assailants.

The Canadian Press quoted Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena as saying that the government had no involvement in Ekneligoda's disappearance. "The Web site has been publishing defamatory articles but all we did was to reply to them. We will not resort to these kinds of actions," Abeywardena told the Canadian Press.

Sri Lanka ranks fourth on CPJ's Global Impunity Index, a ranking of countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the killers go free. A 2009 CPJ report, "Failure to Investigate," reported on the history of attacks on journalists and the government's failure to bring any prosecutions or convictions in any of the cases.

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