(IFJ/IFEX) - 10 August 2010 - Marking 200 days since the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, IFEX members expressed their concern in an open letter:
His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
Hon. Athauda Seneviratne
Minister of Justice
Superior Courts Complex
We, the undersigned members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), are writing to express our grave concern about the state of press freedom in Sri Lanka, and in particular about the disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Eknalidoga.
Today marks 200 days since Eknalidoga went missing. He was last seen on 24 January, just less than 36 hours before the polls opened in the Sri Lankan presidential elections.
Eknaligoda is well known for his work as an outspoken cartoonist and columnist. He worked for many years at the state-owned Lake House group of newspapers, but resigned in 1996, reportedly because he came under pressure after defying a request from then-President Chandrika Kumaratunga to create a cartoon ridiculing the leader of the opposition. More recently, he contributed to the Lanka-e-News portal – where many of his colleagues subsequently suffered harassment and intimidation – as well as "Colombo", a Sinhala-language newspaper.
This is not the first time Eknaligoda's outspoken views as a journalist in Sri Lanka led to his disappearance. In August 2009 he was abducted late in the evening on his way home. Fortunately, he was returned to his family unharmed the next morning.
Eknalidoga's wife Sandhya recently filed a habeas corpus petition, which is pending in the Colombo High Court. Six hearings have been held thus far, but they have failed to achieve substantial results. During the fifth hearing, police assured the court that they would make information related to the case available by the sixth hearing that was to take place on July 21. However, the police failed to show up at the sixth hearing, so no information was provided. The judge ordered the police to appear at the next hearing scheduled for September.
We are extremely concerned by the apparent lack of transparency surrounding the investigation into the disappearance of Eknaligoda, and we call upon the Sri Lankan government and its authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the whereabouts and the circumstances of Eknaligoda's disappearance.
We also ask the Government of Sri Lanka and judiciary to demonstrate much greater purpose in the investigation of the case, and ensure that police summoned to appear before the nation's courts in relation to this matter fulfill their duty to do so.
We respectfully request that the Government of Sri Lanka commit every reasonable effort to resolve this matter and consider the welfare of Prageeth Eknaligoda and his family a priority.
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Globe International Center
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
Public Association "Journalists"
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC