Reporters Without Borders appeals to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to order the release of the results of the police investigation into leading cartoonist and political reporter Prageeth Eknaligoda’s disappearance two months ago. The police have shown no interest in finding this opposition journalist alive, while government ministers have made contradictory statements that have spread confusion about the circumstances of his disappearance.
“With some senior officials such as defence minister Gotabhaya Rajpaksa still suggesting that Eknaligoda staged his own disappearance, we urge the president to provide credible information about happened to him,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Eknaligoda’s wife and two children have had no news of him since 24 January, when he was abducted as he left the office of the Lanka-e-News website, his place of work. The police have provided no convincing information about the case.
In an interview for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror at the end of February, defence minister Rajpaksa (who is the president’s brother) said: “Eknaligoda had himself disappeared (...) We don’t even know who this Eknaligoda is, what had he done? Anyone can claim that he is missing.”
A few days after Eknaligoda’s abduction, his wife was assured by a presidential adviser that he would “resurface.” But two months have since gone by and Eknaligoda, a diabetic since the age of 15, is still missing.
Reporters Without Borders also urges President Rajapaksa to guarantee the safety of journalists during the campaign for the legislative elections scheduled for 8 April.
The latest act of violence against the news media occurred yesterday when supporters of a government official, some of them armed, attacked the headquarters of privately-owned television station MTV/MBC on Colombo’s Braybrooke Place, throwing stones and trying to ransack it. The station was previously attacked by gunmen in January 2009.
An MTV representative said: “The motive is not immediately clear to us, but we think this attack was political, above all because of next month’s parliamentary elections.” It may also have been linked to R&B singer Akon’s forthcoming visit to Colombo, which MTV is sponsoring, as local Buddhist groups took offence at an Akon video that showed skimpily dressed women dancing with a Buddha statue in the background. The police arrested 16 people during the attack but all were released on bail today.
The most recent arrest of an opposition journalist was that of Ruwan Weerakoon in Colombo on 15 March, a few days after he was hospitalised as a result of heart attack (http://www.rsf.org/Anti-terrorist-police-arrest.html). “I under arrest in hospital,” he managed to say in SMS message.
Dozens of state media employees have meanwhile been fired, suspended or threatened for protesting against the government’s control of coverage during the campaign for last January’s presidential election. Monitoring by Reporters Without Borders established that 96.7 per cent of the news programme air-time on the two main state TV stations favoured the president (http://www.rsf.org/All-out-propaganda-and.html).