Dr. Russell: Thank you for speaking with us during this very difficult time, the second anniversary of the disappearance of your husband, Prageeth Eknaligoda. Have you received any word from your husband since that awful day?
Sandya: Not even one word.
Dr. Russell: So what do you think of the claim from Presidential Advisor and former Attorney General Mohan Peiris that your husband is living in another country under political asylum?
Sandya: Mohan Peiris made that statement because of influence from the President and government officials. Peiris made that statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council. He wasn’t even in the country [Sri Lanka] when he made that statement. I am trying very hard to make them prove that statement. I have asked the Sri Lankan government, the President of Sri Lanka and the Human Rights Commission [of Sri Lanka] to bring Mohan Peiris in front of everybody to make that statement again. I have also requested the Sri Lankan courts to make him appear before them and make that statement again. The courts have given permission for Mohan Peiris to come and prove that statement. Mohan Peiris made that statement while being recorded. It is on DVD. The courts gave me approval to ask Mohan Peiris to come into the country and prove the statement.
Dr. Russell: Please forgive me for asking this next question. I know this is not easy for you. What do you think of the statement made by underworld thug Dematagoda Chaminda that he led a team of thugs that threw Prageeth’s body into the sea?
Sandya: It is my understanding is that what we have found out is that Dematagoda Chaminda disposed the body because [the President’s brother] Gotabhaya Rajapaksha and [Defense Secretary] Duminda Silva gave the order to take the body and throw it into the ocean. I don’t know what to believe.
Dr. Russell: But who do you think is ultimately responsible for Prageeth’s disappearance?
Sandya: The Sri Lankan government. For the last two years no one has made an official statement about the disappearance. Mohan Peiris’ statement represents the official line of the government. I think Mohan Peiris’ statement proves that the government is part of this whole episode.
Dr. Russell: Has your local United Nations office been helpful in your search for the truth?
Dr. Russell: Have you or your children been threatened by anyone since your ordeal began?
Sandya: Nobody has come to directly tell me to stop what I am doing. They follow me and check out what I am doing, where I am going, and who I am speaking to. But no one has threatened the kids.
Dr. Russell: During the war, civil liberties were sharply limited in Sri Lanka. Human rights organizations report that the situation has not markedly improved since the end of the conflict. Recently, has the situation in Sri Lanka improved or gotten worse? And most importantly, are people still being disappeared by white vans?
Sandya: There are still disappearances by those white vans. Yes, we don’t hear any more gunshots from the North. But that doesn’t mean that we have peace. Down South there are still disappearances. Now the people who helped “disappear” people are getting disappeared. Even the people who were helping the Human Rights Commission and the victims were also getting disappeared. Lalith Kumar Weeraju and Kugan Murugan, a Sinhalese guy and a Tamil guy disappeared recently because they were working on uncovering the facts of the disappeared in northern Sri Lanka.
Dr. Russell: Do you have any hope that the opposition movement can strengthen civil liberties? Are the various opposition groups working together?
Sandya: It doesn’t mean the opposition can and will change all things if they come to power. But at least the opposition will open the cases of disappearances as they did in the past. I believe the entire political system needs to change. During the UNP [United National Party] time, the opposition was [current President] Rajapaksa and [former President] Chandrika Bandaranayake and they recognized the disappearances, focused on this issue and created monuments to the disappeared people. The families of the disappeared got compensation from Chandrika and the current President’s party. [But no more.] I believe that because of this that if another party comes to power they will focus on this issue and bring back compensation payments. I want a group or committee without any party politics to investigate this stuff forever. So whatever party comes to power, this group or committee will remain unbiased and can find out where the political prisoners are and where the disappeared are.
Dr. Russell: Sandya, can you tell us a little bit about your personal journey from a housewife to the formidable activist you are today?
Sandya: I participated in human rights activities when I was young. But after I married Prageeth my focus was on Prageeth and my two children. Prageeth and I had one political priority, peace. We are both against violence and war. We are both for peace. The love and affection I had for Prageeth and our ideals I felt I had to continue. And the world is helping me, especially CRNI and a few other international organizations and several Sri Lankan organizations focused on promoting peace.
Dr. Russell: Are you surprised by all the support from people rallying around you since this terrible nightmare began?
Sandya – Yes. I am very happy about that. I no longer feel like I am losing the battle. I feel like Prageeth is with me in my heart at all times.