An Indian news agency has reported that four more members of the Sri Lankan military — two of them senior officers — have been arrested in the investigation into the disappearance of cartoonist/columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda.
A week earlier another Sri Lankan army officer had reportedly confessed to interrogating Eknaligoda for three days following Eknaligoda’s disappearance on January 24, 2010. According to Lanka e-News, Sgt. Major Ron Banda has admitted to questioning the prominent journalist at the Girathale Army Camp regarding a book Eknaligoda had written about the country’s then-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his family.
Eknaligoda was a critic of the Rajapaksa government, and a supporter of Rajapaksa’s opponent in the 2010 election. After the three-day interrogation, Eknaligoda was reportedly taken away by another officer and has not been seen since.
This is the first time the cartoonist’s abduction has been successfully linked to government agents. Sgt. Major Banda and another suspect was put under arrest at the time, and the investigation is continuing according to a police spokesperson.
The police have been accused of failing to mount a proper search when Prageeth Eknaligoda was first reported missing in 2010. Eknaligoda’s wife Sandhya recalled: “On the night my husband failed to return home I went to Homagama police station to report it but they refused to open a case. The police finally accepted my complaint two weeks later.” She has since faced harassment for petitioning the government for a comprehensive investigation.
Cartoonists Rights Director Robert Russell comments
“Having lived for four years in Sri Lanka, the story of Prageeth Eknaligoda strikes a particularly emotional chord with me. Sandhya, Prageeth’s heroically brave wife, who led a five-year drum-beating campaign demanding information from a dangerous and often murderous government about her husband’s disappearance, has become a pivotal person in modern Sri Lankan politics. She has been a guest in our house, and we know firsthand of the problems that her children have had coming to terms with the disappearance of their father, and the fear they must of felt every day that their mother took to the streets of Colombo is a lonely voice crying in a wilderness filled with wolves.
“Six months ago in the run-up to presidential elections that saw President Mahinda Rajapaksa lose his family’s grip on power, the opposition promised there would be a full investigation into the disappearance of Prageeth if they came into power.
“The opposition won, and now parliamentary elections have just been held. News that imminent arrests would be made of Prageeth’s suspected assassins and the political powers behind them was made just before parliamentary elections last week. That the suspects so far arrested are close confidants and enforcers of the Rajapaksa regime is no surprise.
“Perhaps the most ironic and bittersweet effect that Prageeth’s assasination could have on Sri Lankan history is to permanently quash any hope of a return to power by the Rajapaksa family. That the government of current president, Maithripala Sirisena, is investigating Prageeth’s disappearance and rounding up suspects puts, at least for now, a halt to the Rajapaksa family’s political ambitions.
“Perhaps Sandhya and her boys will find some level of comfort in the knowledge that her five years of courageous work to find justice for her husband will now help secure justice for the others who have disappeared during the years of the Rajapaksa regime.”
— Robert Russell
The Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed nineteen Sri Lankan journalists murdered in Sri Lanka since 1992. Sri Lanka ranked fourth most dangerous country for journalists in the CPJ’s 2014 world index.