Focus/Spotlight

Where is Prageeth?

By Easwaran Rutnam

On 24 January, 2010, Sandya Eknaligoda was told her husband went missing. Nine years on, there is still no trace of LankaeNews (LEN) journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda.

Sandya Eknaligoda is fighting for information about her missing husband and while his whereabouts still remain a mystery; information that has so far been revealed in court, and information at the hands of investigators, have been chilling.

Prageeth disappeared without a trace soon after he received a mysterious telephone call. Eknaligoda was last seen leaving his office and there were fears that he was abducted by pro-government forces. However, the Government at the time denied the allegation.

It is believed Prageeth was abducted as a result of his links to the then Opposition, and his involvement in the election campaign of their presidential candidate Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Sandya Eknaligoda said that she had not given up her fight to find her husband despite the many hurdles along the way.

The Unity Government, during the 2015 presidential elections, campaigned seeking a mandate to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for high-profile disappearances and murders.

Sandya said that the current Government, now no more a unity government, clearly used her husband’s case during the 2015 presidential election but did very little since. That her husband’s disappearance was used for political gain was openly accepted by the Government last year.

Then Cabinet Co-spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne told reporters that the Government campaigned for the 2015 elections promising justice for the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Wasim Thajudeen, and the disappearance of Eknaligoda. Senaratne added that the Government had so far failed to fulfil its promise.

Winning daily battles

“I have been struggling to ensure the wellbeing of my children and this Government is not very helpful,” Sandya said.
She is a mother of two boys and she said that as life moved on she had to ensure her sons were well educated, even as she continued her campaign to look for her husband.

She said that in 2015, the then Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka promised her assistance, including assistance for her children’s education and possible employment later.

However, Sandya said that she sought government assistance to obtain a computer for her son who was learning graphic designing, but the Government did not respond positively.

“Eventually, those I hardly expected help from came forward and got him the high-end computer he needed to improve his skills,” she said.
Sandya also said that some people asked her why she spent so much to educate her children. She said over the past few years she had a life of hardship and felt she was pushed around to meet the agendas of others. Sandya said her brothers look after her and at other times she obtains employment on a part-time basis.

She continues to face verbal abuse and harassment with hardcore nationalists accusing her of bringing disrepute to the country and, as a woman, she feels she faces more harassment than any other woman in Sri Lanka.

She had to particularly face the wrath of the Bodu Bala Sena and its General Secretary Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara Thera. Gnanasara Thera was found guilty last year for threatening Sandya Eknaligoda in court when the case over her missing husband was heard. Sandya said, since then, she received threats to her life and a diplomatic mission in Colombo helped her install CCTV cameras at her home.

State involvement

Army intelligence officers were accused of being involved in the abduction. It was revealed in court that Prageeth was last detained and questioned at the Giritale Army camp. Army intelligence officers who were arrested over the abduction were later released on bail.
Investigations being conducted by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) also stalled as a result of pressure from leading figures in the Government.

“We know very clearly that after the CID took over the investigations in 2015, there was pressure from the top to block the investigation, when it came to light that some Army officers were involved,” she said.

She said the CID officers involved in the investigations have done a good job, but since the Army is not assisting in the investigations and with external pressure from influential persons, she doubts justice will be served.

Amnesty International (AI) is campaigning for Prageeth through the “Where is Prageeth?” campaign in the US.

“The security establishment’s non-cooperation over the case is what’s holding the case from progressing on to indictments. If this continues, a case for contempt of court must be made. This year marks nine years since Prageeth’s abduction. For how long must Sandya and his loved ones wait for answers?” South Asia Regional Researcher at Amnesty International Thyagi Ruwanpathirana told The Sunday Morning.
Sandya Eknaligoda said she will continue her fight despite the obstacles in her path.

Display of exceptional courage

Her campaign drew the attention of the US Government in 2017 and she was recognised for her efforts.
US First Lady Melania Trump honoured 13 extraordinary women, including Sandya Eknaligoda, with the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2017.

The award recognises women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights, empowerment, and justice, often at great personal risk.

The State Department said that as a member of the majority Sinhalese community in Sri Lanka, Sandya has become a symbol for the many thousands of persons – including from the Tamil minority – who have suffered the loss of disappeared relatives over the course of the 27-year civil war and earlier insurrections.

Parliamentarian Keheliya Rambukwella was the Media Minister at the time Prageeth Eknaligoda went missing. Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Rambukwella said that there were different views being expressed over Eknaligoda and his disappearance.

Controversial disappearance

“Some say he is missing, but there are others who say he is still alive and is living elsewhere in the world. Some feel this whole incident was manipulated and there are those who say a minister in the current Government was involved in his disappearance. So this case is a bit controversial,” he said.

He was of the opinion that the matter should be dealt with by the law enforcement authorities without making it a political issue.
“Even Minister Rajitha had admitted that the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda and the murder of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge were used for political gain,” he said.

Rambukwella also criticised the manner in which Sandya Eknaligoda was conducting the campaign to find her missing husband.
“I understand what she maybe going through and why she is going to any extent to seek justice. Every person has a right to live. But the manner in which she handled it leaves some element of suspicion,” he claimed.

Rambukwella feels the whole purpose of the campaign to find Prageeth was misdirected, and this led to more and more questions being asked about the campaign, as opposed to keeping the focus on the real issue.