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These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

06/06/2012

Former Attorney General testifies in Prageeth's case: and admits he misled the UN

We previously wrote about the ongoing saga of Prageeth Ekneligoda’s disappearance and the bizarre claims of the President’s lawyer (and Former Sri Lankan Attorney General) that Prageeth was alive and well and living abroad.

Today he was finally compelled to testify under oath in the Magistrate’s court investigating his disapperence. And he said that his statement was based on hearsay, and that contrary to what he said there, he actually had no idea where Prageeth is.

Here’s a report from the courtroom.
Former Attorney General and Senior Legal Advisor to the cabinet Mohan Peiris provided his testimony over a statement he made at the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) on November 9, 2011 in Geneva, that Prageeth Ekneligoda was alive overseas.

Mr Peiris confirmed having participated at the 47th UN CAT in November 2011, and said this meeting was held at a time when there was widespread anti-Sri Lankan sentiments being expressed in many quarters.

But Mr. Peiris rejected making the statement as laid out in the document as he read the UN transcript of his statement provided to him by Mrs. Ekneligoda’s lawyer. “I mentioned that an investigation is being carried out on the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda but some foreigners who were not satisfied with my statement continued to question me for nearly three hours. If I recall correct, I responded to a U.S. lady’s question and mentioned that the government and the justice department had received intelligence information that Prageeth Eknaligoda was living overseas, but it was mere hearsay and we forwarded that information to be investigated” he said.

When Mr. Peiris was asked by Mrs. Ekneligoda’s lawyer whether he could name the source of his information prior to leaving for the UN sessions, State Counsel objected saying that a public official cannot be asked to reveal information about what he says and does in the course of his official duty, especially if such revelation would be inimical to the country's interest or reputation and/or if such revelation would result in any harm to the people of this country. 
Mrs. Ekneligoda’s lawyer pointed out firstly that Mr. Peiris is not a public official coming under the Public Service Commission and secondly that no harm would come to any citizen of this country as a result of Mr. Peiris' revelations. As for the country's interest or reputation, the lawyer observed that contrary to State Counsel's fears, Mr. Peiris' revelation would only help enhance the reputation of the country and its judicial processes. State counsel then quoted relevant laws and countered that Peiris is a public official. Mrs. Ekneligoda’s lawyer also quoted Case Law where it had been shown that the judge had powers to ask a public official to reveal his sources of information. State counsel contested this position and insisted on the Court upholding his objection, in spite of the fact that Mr. Peiris himself offered to Court to answer the question.

At this point Court invited Peiris to answer the question. Mr. Peiris said that he does not remember who or what the source of his information was and that he was processing nearly 100 files a day at the time and that remembering such details was not possible.

Mr Peiris drew the Magistrate’s attention to the UN Charter and explained that that the UN forums had complete freedom of speech and that public officials representing various countries in the forum were subject to independent discharge of duty and had legal immunity. He appealed that the UN Charter must be honored at all times. He went on to conclude by saying that he wished he could shed more light, but that “I have no information that the corpus is alive or not and I do not think the government does either and that God only knows where Ekneligoda is".
He also said his statement should not be misinterpreted for political gains as it brings disrepute to the country.
The next date was fixed for 10th July, 1.30pm 
Mr. Peiris was provided special treatment not provided to other witnesses in this or other cases, when the unusually large Police contingent present outside Courts, arranged for his car to be taken inside the court premises and barred many of the journalists from entering the premises. Mr. Peiris thereby avoided speaking to or even being photographed by the many journalists that were waiting outside.
We dug out the video from the UN Archive of Mr Peiris’s testimony to the UN Committee against torture.

Video streaming by UstreamThe statement on Prageeth comes at 1:48:21. Our (unofficial) transcript is as follows:
"our current info is that Mr Ekneligoda has taken refuge in a foreign country. We don't say this... it's not something that I am saying with a tongue in my cheek, it's something that we are reasonably certain of. This is coming.... this is information that we have got through the [unclear] circles that this has been played out for different reasons. I think I shouldn't say more because the matter has been investigated."
It doesn’t sound particularly like Mr Peiris was saying the information was being presented as hearsay – or that the investigation is ongoing. And
“Mr Ekneligoda has taken refuge in a foreign country. .. it's something that we are reasonably certain of”
is somewhat different to
“I have no information that the corpus is alive or not and I do not think the government does either and that God only knows where Ekneligoda is".
No doubt the UN Committee Against Torture will be interested to know that Mohan Peiris has tesitifed under oath that the information he gave them is wrong.

In the meantime the case of Prageeth’s disappearance will not go away. Recently the US State Department listed Prageeth’s disappearance as one of their key cases for media freedom. Prageeth's wife Sandya has tirelessly lobbied for years to have this case investigated. Her seven month campaign brought Mohan Peiris to court, but the matter will not rest until we find out where Prageeth is.