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Voices in Danger: Why did Prageeth Eknelygoda disappear?

Sandhya Eknaligoda says she is “absolutely certain it is the government” who caused the disappearance of her journalist husband

Prageeth Eknaligoda was born into Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist aristocracy. He could have easily lived a comfortable life on the wealth of his family. But then came the 1971 uprising which was crushed with appalling violence. Prageeth was so shocked he became a convinced socialist and renounced his family’s wealth.

It was while working for a union in Colombo that he met Sandhya. She grew up in poverty and had to abandon her education while still a girl. After setting up a business she became involved in the union movement, particularly helping protect women against exploitative bosses. She still remembers Prageeth’s first words to her: “Sister, why did you come here?”

Three years later, they got married. “He was extremely kind… That was the foundation of our love. He was the best friend I would ever have in this life,” she says. They had two sons.

“When Prageeth disappeared, many people asked me why I had done nothing to stop him from doing what he did,” she continues. “But why should I have stopped him? He was not doing anything wrong. He was doing something good and positive for our future.”

Since the Sri Lankan government had clearly no interest in investigating this disappearance, Sandhya appealed on the international stage. She handed a letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, in 2011.

When she returned, the magistrate’s court in Sri Lanka that was meant to be looking into the disappearance accused her of being a traitor for raising her husband’s case with foreigners. She says she is “certain it is the government” who caused her husband’s disappearance. “Prageeth didn’t have other enemies.”

Readers of this article will probably fear the worst for Prageeth. But Sandhya says she has to believe he is still alive, for not to would “mean giving up on my quest for justice”. Since Prageeth’s disappearance she says there has been no happiness in their home. One of her sons is on medication. The other used to write poetry, but since his father vanished he has not written a word. She is finding it very hard to survive financially. She has received support from journalists’ groups including the CPJ. But the money will soon run out.

Despite the situation, she is not afraid. “Looking for Prageeth is my life. In pursuit of that, I am not scared of anything else.”

For further details of this case, see Voices in Danger, here. Amnesty International asks readers to write to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka.