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The Prageeth Ekneligoda affair – I

Over the past few months, there has been quite an issue created over the disappearance of a ‘journalist’ by the name of Prageeth Ekneligoda. I have remained silent on this disappearance up to now, for a purpose. Now however, irrespective of the purpose I had in mind, I have been compelled to break my silence on this issue because Sunanda Deshapriya writing to the Ravaya last week, said quoting Prageeth’s wife Sandya, that the first time Ekneligoda is said to have been ‘abducted’ around August 2009, it was I who had got him released. Of course Deshapriya has not mentioned me by name, but referred to a mediaman attached to an English language newspaper. This is a reference to me. I was not very surprised at seeing this because a few weeks back, I got a call from Sandya telling me that she had got to know from one Gunadasa Jayalath, a close friend of Prageeth’s who works as a coordinating secretary to deputy minister Salinda Dissanayake, that the first time Prageeth disappeared, in August last year, I who had saved him.

What is strange is that I know both Prageeth and Sandya. If I had saved Prageeth from abductors last year, why would Sandya have had to hear it from a third party? Prageeth should have told Sandya himself, and they should have prepared a good meal for me at home and introduced me to their sons as the uncle who saved their father’s life. In addition to that, a photograph of me should have been placed below the Buddha statue in their home, and I should have been worshipped day and night. But none of this happened. To Sandya Ekneligoda, it does not seem strange that her husband never told her that it was I who had rescued him the first time he had been abducted. This incongruity is a pointer to the nature of the campaign that has been drummed up over the disappearance of Ekneligoda.

Political activist

I have known Prageeth Ekneligoda for well over twenty years. It was Prageeth who designed the cover of my book ‘Kolapata Samajaya’ in 1997. It was some people known to Prageeth who computer typeset the book as well. The reason why I said not a word about his disappearance is so as to be in a position to make an intervention on his behalf if it became necessary. Making known my views on his disappearance publicly would not have helped Prageeth in any way. However, I believe it would not be in my best interests to keep quiet any longer. The first thing to get cleared is who Prageeth is. I am probably the only employee of Upali Newspapers who had even heard of someone called Prageeth Ekneligoda even though he is supposed to be a journalist. C.J.Amaratunga a staff columnist to the Lankadeepa would be the only person at Wijaya Newspapers who would have known him in that media institution. I doubt whether anybody at Sirasa TV, Swarnavahini or Derana had ever heard of him. Even Amaratunga and I knew him only as a left wing political activist and not as a journalist.

Very few journalists in the newspapers and TV and radio stations that abound in this country had ever heard of Prageeth until his disappearance. The reason for that is that Prageeth was never a journalist. He made a living as a freelance graphics artist. He had various small businesses dealing with printing, typesetting or graphics at various times in his life. He was also a freewheeling intellectual and a left wing political activist. I got to know him in the 1980s as a left wing political activist. I believe he had worked with Dr Newton Goonesinghe and helped him with his research projects. Prageeth had an intellectual bent. He had plenty of ideas on politics and how things should be. However he was never even a freelance journalist. He has published a few articles in various publications. If an occasional contributor can be called a journalist or a mediaman, then quite a few of those who write to our letters to the editor page are also journalists. Long time regular contributors will have to be designated ‘senior journalists’.

First disappearance

Even if he had wanted to, Prageeth could never have become a journalist or media man because he had a stilted left wing intellectual style of writing that nobody, not even intellectuals, could understand. When he spoke he did not make things seem so complicated, but his writing was incomprehensible even to those familiar with his line of thinking. This claim that he was a journalist was due to his association with the website lanka e-news. But there too, according to Bennet Rupasinghe its editor, he had been only an occasional contributor and not even a regular freelance contributor. Had lanka e-news regularly published the analyses that Prageeth wrote, they would have had to close down the website because nobody would have understood what he was writing. So Prageeth was never a journalist, but a graphics artist and a freewheeling intellectual. This will answer the question why so few journalists or media men in this country had ever heard of a media personality called Prageeth Ekneligoda until he disappeared.

Now we come to the question of Prageeth’s disappearance. This apparently, was not the first time that Prageeth had disappeared. Around August last year, Prageeth had told his friends that he had been abducted and released by an unidentified gang. Nelson Edirisinghe is a veteran left wing activist and long time buddy of Prageeth’s. Nelson now works for minister Douglas Devananda as a coordinating secretary. Last year, Prageeth told Nelson that he had been abducted and released and he had described the incident as follows - he had been returning to Colombo from Dambulla and at the Pettah bus stand, he had got into a bus bound for Homagama to go home. At that stage Prageeth had sensed that there was a man following him. When he reached his bus stop, he had got off and the suspicious man had got off with him. There was a white van parked along the road that led to his house and he had been bundled into the van and handcuffed and blindfolded. He could not see where they took him because of the blindfold, but he had been taken to a house and with the blindfold still on, he had been chained to a bolt driven into the floor. He had spent the entire night on the floor. He had not been asked any questions, but some recorded ‘noises’ had apparently been played, (probably to deprive him of sleep). In the morning, they had removed the blindfold, told him to wash his face and said that they had made a mistake and that he was not the man they wanted. At around 10.00am they had dropped him off at a quarry somewhere in the Malabe-Athurugiriya area from where he had made his way back home.

Mistaken identity

Naturally, Nelson did not believe a word of it. Neither would anyone else who heard the story. A man may be arrested by mistake in a cordon and search operation where mass arrests are made. But there could be no case of mistaken identity when a man was under surveillance and had been followed in Dambulla and there was another man to follow him from the Pettah bus stand, with a white van waiting for him on the road to his house. This would suggest that he had been watched for days, if not weeks or even months, before the abductors made their move. There can be no question of mistaken identity in such an operation and only very wanted men would be followed in that manner. There were instances that we heard of in the past, where uninvolved people had been abducted to get information about third parties and had been released after obtaining the necessary information. In such instances, the abductions were obviously carried out deliberately and were not ‘mistakes’. Prageeth’s was the only instance that anybody has ever heard of a man being abducted by mistake. Such things are not within the realm of possibility. Besides almost all abductions reported in the recent past were those of Tamils. Prageeth is a Sinhalese. Could it ever be possible that some security agency had followed a rare Sinhala suspect and nabbed the wrong man by mistake?

Naturally, not even the most sympathetic listener would have believed a word of what Prageeth said. Later he went to see yet another close friend of his, the afore mentioned Gunadasa Jayalath also a veteran left wing activist now working as coordinating secretary to deputy minister Salinda Dissanayake. Jayalath used to be a left wing activist monk under the name of Karambe Gunananda. He has since given up robes. When Prageeth told Jayalath about his first abduction. Jayalath asked him why the government would want to abduct him. To this, Prageeth had replied that he had once stated that both the LTTE and the government had used chemical weapons during the last stages of the war and that the government may have been unhappy about that. Jayalath then asked him, if he had been taken in for something like that, how he had managed to get out. To this Prageeth replied that some influential person like Chandraprema (Yes myself!) would have brought pressure on the government to release him. He had not stated this as a certainty but as what probably would have happened. Prageeth had all along been stressing the need to go into hiding as there were people after him. He asked Jayalath for some money. Jayalath gave Prageeth Rs. 300.

Hearsay

Jayalath obviously told Prageeth’s wife Sandya about what they had discussed the last time they met, and it was on the basis of this that Sandya phoned me saying that Jayalath had told her that I had saved Prageeth the first time he had been abducted. The information flow seems to be going in a circle here. Prageeth tells Jayalath that I may have saved him, and Jayalath tells his wife Sandya that Prageeth told him that Chandraprema may have been his saviour and Sandya phones me probably in the expectation that I could save him a second time and she also tells Sunanda Deshapriya that according to Edirisinghe and Jayalath it was Chandraprema who had saved Prageeth the first time. But the fact is that I never knew of Prageeth’s first ‘abduction’ until Prageethfriend Nelson Edirisinghe told me about it much later. Indeed had I at the time of his first abduction known that he had been abducted and had I known that some state agency was involved, I would have got a shed constructed in front of the Fort Railway station and gone on a hunger strike, not to get Prageeth released, but to protest against the fact that this most powerful of post independence governments led by the most popular political leader that this country has seen in recent times, had fallen to the level of considering it necessary to abduct a harmless, penniless, insignificant non-entity like Prageeth Ekneligoda.

Prageeth was against the Rajapaksa regime no doubt, but that meant nothing. He was always anti-establishment. When the UNP was in power before 1994, he was against the UNP. When Chandrika was in power, he was against Chandrika. When Mahinda is in power he is against Mahinda. There was no harm that he could ever do to any government. Even if he had written anti-government articles every day, nobody would have read them. Even though many left wing activists that Prageeth associated with, have become well known personalities, Prageeth was always a non-entity until his ‘second abduction’ made his name widely known. Prageeth’s anti-government activities counted for nothing. In the 1980s when we were young men, there used to be a Marxist-Trotskyist organization called ‘Kamkaru Mawatha’ the leaders of which who used to openly say that an armed struggle should be launched against the government. Despite the fact that the J.R. Jayewardene government was allergic to Marxists, even they took not the slightest notice of ‘Kamkaru Mawatha’. Prageeth’s anti-government activities were also in the same league.

Nonentity

In any case, even if he was involved with a group of like-minded people, Prageeth would never play a central role in anything. He was always on the periphery of things. Nobody really believed he had ever really been abducted in August 2009 and I don’t either. What Sunanda Deshapriya had written in last week’s Ravaya is what had been told to him by Sandya Ekneligoda. She had apparently told him that both Gunadasa Jayalath the co-ordinating secretary to deputy minister Salinda Dissanayake and Nelson Edirisinghe the coordinating secretary to minister Douglas Devananda had told her that I had been instrumental in getting Prageeth released the first time he had been abducted. I am in contact with Nelson Edirisinghe and he had most certainly not said anything of the sort to Sandya. When I asked Jayalath over the phone last week about this, he too denied that he had said that I had been instrumental in getting Prageeth released and that it was Prageeth himself who had told him that it was ‘probably’ I who may have saved him the first time.

Sandya Ekneligoda is involved in deliberately spreading falsehoods around. I see this whole episode as a massive scam and my name is being used in an attempt to establish that Prageeth was indeed abducted the first time. If I had rescued him, then he had to have been abducted. Well, I resent my name being used for such a purpose and this is what compels me to say publicly, what I told Sandya privately when she turned up at The Island office asking me for help.


(To be continued tomorrow)

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