Friday, August 30, 2013

Remembering Prageeth, Other Journalists on International Disappearances Day

Prageeth Ekneligoda
(Courtesy lanka-advocacy.com)

Journalists makeup many of the world’s missing persons – those of whose fate there is no clear or definitive knowledge. Today, August 30, is international day of the disappeared. According to the records of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 14 journalists have disappeared in the course of their work in the past five years. The overwhelming majority of them are from Mexico – nine.

CPJ says that in the past 12 months 24 journalists were abducted, although not all of them have been categorised as ‘missing’ because at least two of them escaped. Comprehensive write-ups about disappeared journalists can be read in Attacks on the Press 2012.

In its posting on August 30, CPJ’s blog Jason Stern highlights the cases of Bashar Fahmi, a journalist of Jordanian-Palestinian origin, and freelancer Austin Tice of the US. Both went missing in Syria just over a year ago. Fahmi had disappeared in Aleppo with cameraman Cüneyt Ünal. Ünal was released in November, but of Fahmi there is still no news, although it is believed he is still alive.

Tice too is believed to be alive. On August 14, his family released a statement to commemorate 365 days since they had heard from him. It read, “The most tolerable aspect of this day is that it means we are one day closer to the return of Austin, of all other captives, and relief of the suffering of the Syrian people.”

As the statement of the Tice family indicates, the fate of the disappeared remains uncertain. This results in periods of waiting for parents, spouses and children, refusing to bring closure to trauma and grief.

While I sincerely hope that Tice, Fahmi and those many other journalists who are now counted among disappeared will have the good fortune to rejoin their loved ones, I would like to highlight the case of Sri Lankan cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Ekneligoda who disappeared on January 24, 2010, and who is yet to come home. His case is all the more traumatic because of the cynicism of the Sri Lankan authorities, who have assured his family time and again that he is alive. Their assurances have raised hope, but only to be dashed when they later admitted they were actually bluffing.

One person who gave such an assurance – under oath before the Committee against Torture (CAT) in Geneva – is Mohan Peiris who is now Sri Lanka’s chief justice; the other, Anuraradhika Fernando, member of parliament of the ruling party.

The Cartoon Movement that has been following Ekneligoda’s disappearance and the valiant attempts by his wife Sandaya and her two children for justice, has documented the twists and turns the case has taken here.

Accounts in Reporters without Borders (RSF) can be read here

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