New York, June 8, 2011—It has been exactly 500 days since Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Eknelygoda disappeared. He has not been seen by his wife Sandhya Eknelygoda or by the couple’s two teenage sons, Sanjay and Harith, since he left for work around 7:30 a.m., on the morning of January 24, 2010. Sandhya filed a complaint with the local police office at 11:30 a.m. the next day but so far no government official has given her information about her husband’s whereabouts. His family and colleagues at the Lanka eNews website where he worked have no idea what has become of Eknelygoda.
“Sandhya Eknelygoda’s failure in her quest for justice for her husband exposes the malfunction of the Sri Lankan government and the U.N.,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “We call on the U.N. to step forward and help her.”
Sandhya Eknelygoda’s travails started many months ago, when she filed a complaint to Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission. No more information emerged, even though the commission launched an investigation on February 12, 2010. The couple’s attorneys have filed a case in the Court of Appeal, asking the government to reveal if they are holding him. The case is still in the courts.
Efforts to pressure the Sri Lankan government to act have come to naught. There hasn’t been any United Nations involvement. On January 24, the anniversary of Eknelygoda’s disappearance, his wife personally handed over a letter addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon through the office of U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka Neil Buhne. The letter called on Buhne and Ban to encourage the government to hasten investigations of her husband’s disappearance.
But Buhne left the Colombo position in March and was replaced by Subinay Nandy. So far, Eknelygoda’s requests for assistance from the new representative have met with only a form letter. In March 2011, CPJ and four other media rights groups called on the U.N. to intervene in the Eknelygoda case. In May 2011, Sandhya Eknelygoda wrote to Ban, saying that the government– which she suspects is complicit in her husband’s disappearance–has showed no interest in investigating the case. She made a personal appeal to him for assistance.
“The lack of a positive response from the U.N. has made me feel further victimized,” she told CPJ via a colleague in Colombo, who interpreted her remarks. “I continue to look to the U.N. for assistance.”
Meanwhile, Lanka eNews, once a vibrant anti-government, pro-opposition site, is struggling to stay alive, with its editor and founder Sandaruwan Senadheera in exile in Britain since March 2010 after repeated death threats. The site’s offices were torched in a 2 a.m. arson attack on January 31, 2011. No arrests have been made. To make matters worse, the site’s news editor, Bennet Rupasinghe, was held for several days in police custody for allegedly threatening a brother of a suspect over the arson attack. However, as Rupasinghe is 68 years old and had a medical condition, he was moved from prison to a secure hospital. He was then released on bail.