Sri Lankans demand release of jailed ex-Army Chief
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 08, 2012, 20:52
Colombo: Opposition lawmakers and activists on Wednesday demanded the release of Sri Lanka's jailed former Army Chief, shouting slogans and calling him a political prisoner during a protest in the capital.

The protest came exactly two years after Sarath Fonseka was arrested. His arrest came nearly two weeks after he lost a presidential election to the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

A court-martial in 2010 found Fonseka guilty of planning his political career while still in the military and of committing fraud in purchasing military equipment. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

In November 2011, he was sentenced to an additional three-year prison term for implicating the defence secretary in war crimes during Sri Lanka's civil war.

Fonseka has said the cases are a political vendetta launched to persecute him for daring to run against Rajapaksa. On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Supreme Court complex in Colombo.

They shouted slogans and displayed placards that read, "Free Gen Fonseka and all political prisoners."

Opposition lawmaker Tissa Attanayake called Fonseka a "political prisoner" and said "he has been imprisoned on political and unjustifiable allegations."

"We urge the government to free him unconditionally and immediately," he said.

Fonseka was regaled as a war hero in 2009 after he led Sri Lanka's Army to victory in its 26-year civil war with separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, and he and Rajapaksa were immensely popular among the Sinhalese majority for defeating a rebel group that had seemed invincible for decades.

But they had a falling out months after the war ended, and their relationship deteriorated further after the general challenged Rajapaksa in the January 26, 2010, election. He was arrested February 8.

Fonseka was tried before two military courts. One court-martial found him guilty of planning his political career while still in the military and stripped him of his title, medals, pension and other honours and dishonourably discharged him from the Army.

Fonseka appealed to the Court of Appeal, but it rejected his motion last month and let the conviction stand. He can still appeal to the Supreme Court.


First Published: Wednesday, February 08, 2012, 20:52

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