incarceration of former General Sarath Fonseka is gradually
developing into a major crisis with more and more people
joining the chorus of protestors.
General Cecil Waidyaratne was the only other Army Commander
who was behind bars in Welikada throughout the history of
the Sri Lanka Army spanning little over 60 years.
Waidyaratne was in the remand prison for a while after a
judicial inquiry unlike Sarath Fonseka.
The profound support extended by the people to Fonseka has
nothing to do with his political affiliations or his
affinity with the opposition political forces but purely
because he played a pivotal and an undisputable role in
relieving the country from the clutches of terrorism, which
held the country to ransom for nearly three decades.
citizen in Sri Lanka has the freedom to believe or
perpetuate any political culture as they wish as long as
they do not violate cardinal principles of democracy on
which the social structure is built over the last 75 years
or so since the day Sri Lanka was considered part of
Former General Fonseka soon after his retirement as the
Chief of Defence Staff a post that encompassed all three
armed forces was propelled into political limelight by the
joint opposition as the main contender against President
Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January presidential election.
Although it gave Fonseka a great deal of political
exposure as a novice pitted against a political giant,
much-experienced Mahinda Rajapaksa, through his political
acumen, emerged victorious.
There were questions raised about the inclement political
climate under which the presidential election was held
through a petition to the Supreme Court that is now being
examined by a five-judge bench presided over by Chief
Justice Asoka de Silva.
Fonseka was later arrested on numerous charges including
treason to topple the government.
Along with Fonseka, so many top-ranking military officials
were either sent on compulsory leave or detained for further
This included the defence writer of The Bottom Line
newspaper, Ruwan Weerakoon.
All of them, including the personal aide of Fonseka, Senaka
de Silva were released later, since the Attorney-General
told a Colombo magistrate court that they could not maintain
charges against them any further for the alleged offences
due to lack of evidence.
In the meantime, Fonseka who was tried by the first court
martial appointed by the President found him guilty of
indulging in politics while in service and recommended that
he be stripped off his rank, which was ratified by the
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, however, took an
exception to the order given by the court martial and argued
that he does not fall into the category of officers who
could be tried under the provisions of the Military Act.
The second court martial once again found him guilty of
violating the set tender procedures while he acted as the
chairman of the procurement committee of the Sri Lanka Army,
and handed down a jail sentence that was once again affirmed
by the President.
This resulted in incarcerating the former General for two
and a half years with hard labour.
The incarceration is now having a snowball effect with
people and the Maha Sangha realising that it was too harsh a
punishment, meted out to the man who worked selflessly to
The people in their hundreds displayed their disapproval
on Monday, when they participated in religious ceremonies
outside the superior court complex to invoke divine
blessings on the incarcerated former General.
When Fonseka was brought to the superior court complex the
same afternoon as an accused in the famous white flag case,
his supporters and many lawyers obstructed the path of the
Black Maria that brought him to the court.
There he vowed again to an agitated crowd that he would
not give up his fight to restore democracy and good
governance in the country, which the people were longing for
On Monday morning, amid all these political hullabaloo, UNP
Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya visited Fonseka, who was
confined to a solitary cell in Welikada.
Jayasuriya returned to Sri Lanka on Monday morning after a
tour of London.
He made it a point to visit the joint opposition candidate
to whom he canvassed in January no sooner he arrived in the
Chilaw district UNP Parliamentarian Range Bandara also
joined Jayasuriya where they had a chat for nearly 15
Fonseka told Jayasuriya that this was nothing but
political vendetta and that it was patently clear, through
the manner in which the government was behaving.
Jayasuriya later alerted the press corp to the fact that
there is a possibility of poisoning the food given to
Fonseka and said that three LTTE suspects who are known to
be suicide carders are at large and that it poses a grave
threat to the life of Fonseka.
Jayasuriya later joined a chorus of people who were
performing religious ceremonies for the release of Fonseka
In court on Monday, a High Court trial-at-bar heard the
evidence by Sunday Leader editor Fredrica Janz what Fonseka
allegedly told her during an interview.
She said that according to Fonseka, Gota (Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa) had allegedly ordered an army officer to shoot
the LTTE cadres who were coming towards an army camp bearing
white flags to surrender.
The interview had been conducted at the Reid Avenue
political office of Fonseka somewhere in December last year
when the presidential race was in top gear.
Outside court, people chanted slogans urging the government
to release Fonseka. The opposition seems to be outraged over
the present situation and is making every effort to secure
the release of Fonseka.
Jayalath Jayawardana and Akila Viraj Karuyawasam, the two
UNP parliamentarians, were present before the Human Rights
Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva
stating that the government contravening all accepted norms
relating to human dignity has curtailed Sarath Fonseka’s
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who was representing the
government, apprised IPU Human Rights Committee on the
present situation relating to Fonseka and said that the due
judicial process had been adhered to as far as Fonseka’s
matter is concerned.
It appeared that Mahinda Samarasinghe carried the day and
pulled Sri Lanka out of a political quagmire unscathed.
The kind of propaganda carried out by the opposition in
foreign lands had its chilling effects here, so much so
President Rajapaksa addressing both opposition and
government parliamentarians at a consultative committee
meeting last Tuesday said that attacking him is one thing if
he has committed any wrong but tarnishing our country’s
image in foreign lands would not augur well for the country.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was mindful of various
strategies adopted by the government to get over Fonseka
issue without much of a hassle, meanwhile, appealed to the
President to remit the sentence imposed on Fonseka, in
Parliament on Tuesday.
When Wickremesinghe made his plea on behalf of the
opposition, the President was attending consultative
committee meeting in his capacity as the Minister of Ports
Wickremesinghe, who read out the letter he dispatched to
President Rajapaksa, told Parliament that it was his
responsibility to make an appeal to the President as the
Leader of the Opposition since Fonseka represents the
opposition in Parliament.
He said Fonseka served the country with honour and
distinction and defeated the LTTE on ground. “He not only
faced the LTTE bravely but with fortitude and nearly
sacrificed his life.” Wickremesinghe said he was decorated
as a solider for the services rendered to the motherland and
that it was the view of the opposition that he should not be
serving a sentence of imprisonment.
He appealed to the President to exercise his presidential
prerogative in terms of the constitution and or
alternatively section 65 of the Army Act to remit the whole
Wickremesinghe also made a plea to restore Fonseka’s civil
and military status.
Wickremesinghe’s request to the President on behalf of
Fonseka is most apposite under the prevailing conditions
where Fonseka or his party is not in a frame of mind to
explore all possible avenues to secure his release.
In view of Wickremesinghe’s letter to the President,
President Rajapaksa told the cabinet of ministers that he
would not consider politically motivated pleas.
“It has to either come from him or his wife,” he added.
The President also told the cabinet that a pardon could only
be possible if it originates from his family, his wife or
The President at the same time said that this request should
accompany with a pledge to withdraw all the cases he had
filed in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme court
challenging the validity of the general court martial
appointed by him.
Simultaneously, he reminded that Vijaya Kumaratunga
secured his release after he was incarcerated on a Naxalite
charge after his wife made a plea to the then President.
It was Minister Felix Perera, who was a close associate of
Vijaya Kumaratunga, who brought it to the notice of the
President. The President at the same time would be writing
to the leader of the opposition asking him as to whether the
request for the pardon by the opposition leader had any kind
of consent from Fonseka.
Having said all that about Fonseka, the President pinned the
blame on some of the ministers for having surreptitious
connections with Fonseka during the presidential election
and said that if he did take action half the cabinet would
not have been there.
He said that some very close relatives of a minister worked
against him breaking ‘coconuts’ at a place of worship.
The President directed all the salvos he fired at the SLFP
members in the cabinet whom he thought were unfair by him.
The next day he met the heads of the state media
institutions and blamed them for being dormant on the
However, what is clear now is, despite pressure from
various quarters the Fonseka family is determined not to
make any appeal or plea to the government seeking the
release since they believe that the incarceration of Fonseka
was without any legal basis and only on vengeance.
It was on the other day that Wimal Weerawansa sort of a
trouble-shooter for the present regime appeared on national
TV to urge Mrs Fonseka to seek a pardon from the President.
He told Mrs Fonseka to be practical and make a plea on
behalf of Fonseka without addressing press conferences.
Several other ministers too joined the Weerawansa
bandwagon to justify the government’s stand on Fonseka.
Among them were Ministers S B Dissanayake, Susil
Premajayantha, Dullas Allahapperuma and Dilan Perera.
Deputy Minister Perera said that there is no appeal
available as a redress to Fonseka against the order of the
court martial and said that the sole authority who could
pardon him was the President.
What Minister Perera failed to mention was that the court
martial order could be challenge by way of a writ of
mandamus in the Court of Appeal, since the military tribunal
is ‘administrative’ in its nature. Minister S B Dissanayake
apportioned the blame on Ranil Wickremesinghe and JVP Leader
Somawansa Amerasinghe for having dragged Fonseka into
Dissanayake accentuated that Wickremesinghe owes a public
apology to Fonseka for the foregoing but instead he was
making a plea to the President to release him.
Over the weekend, President Rajapaksa in Polonnaruwa told
Buddhist clergy that he was ready to consider a pardon, if
Fonseka is ready to make a plea in terms of the
The President also explained to the Buddhist clergy the
difficulty he faced in overturning the ruling of the court
martial, which he appointed under the Military Act.
On the contrary, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe says
that the President could act under section 65 of the Army
Act to remit the whole sentence or otherwise without
depending on plea on behalf of Fonseka. Wickremesinghe who
was busy lobbying for Fonseka’s release visited him in
Welikada and wanted the authorities to look into the
facilities provided for Fonseka.
He also took part in a Bodhi Pooja in Dompe organised by
UNP Provincial Councillor Harshana Rajakaruna and was told
by the Buddhist monks there not to make political speeches
at the temple premises but Wickremesinghe spoke urging the
government to release Fonseka since the laws under which he
was tried were not applicable to him.
If by any quirk of fate the first court martial was
applicable, Wickremesinghe emphasised that the second court
martial could not be applicable at all since his military
status had been removed by virtue of the first court
Nevertheless, some believe that Anoma Fonseka should
enter parliament to carry forward the struggle to release
Fonseka since there are no signs of government yielding to
pressure exerted by the Buddhist prelates and the Catholic
However, there are obstacles in doing so, since the whole
list after Fonseka should resign to pave the way for Anoma
The Democratic National Alliance (DNA), the party that
Fonseka represents in parliament had examined this
possibility, but was apprehensive since one person down the
line had already shifted his allegiance to the government.
In the circumstances getting the list of members,
representing Colombo District to resign is out of the
question one senior member of the DNA told this column the
only alternative being the national list.
However, there is an ambiguity in the law relating to the
court martial as to the implications of imprisonment under
the Army Act.
The government and the opposition were seeking legal opinion
to ascertain the impact of the sentence and whether
Fonseka’s seat had actually fallen vacant on account of the
sentence meted out by the military tribunal.
On Wednesday, when the defence counsel pointed out to the
High Court-at-bar that Fonseka was an MP and moved for the
postponement of the ‘white flag’ case to facilitate him to
attend Parliamentary proceedings the court allowed the
However, by Thursday afternoon, the acting parliamentary
secretary-general informed the commissioner of elections to
appoint another member in place of Fonseka whose seat had
fallen vacant due to imprisonment.
The commissioner, acting on this premise, nominated Lakshman
Nipunaarachchi as the new member and made all arrangements
to publish a gazette notification giving legal effect to the
nomination, a copy of which was received by the office of
the secretary-general of parliament.
By this time, the election commissioner received yet
another letter addressed to him by Paul Ratnayake
Associates, the lawyers of Sarath Fonseka, stating that a
decision of a general court martial did not have the same
legal effect similar to that of a court of law functioning
under the normal law of the country.
“The general court martial was not court as envisaged by the
constitution and therefore it was not an order that deprived
him of his parliamentary seat.”
It also stated that Sarath Fonseka would challenge the
decision of the general court martial in the Court of Appeal
in terms of Section 79 of the Army Act read with relevant
provisions of the Constitution.
The letter certainly served as a legal impediment to the
elections commissioner who acted on the earlier
communication of the acting secretary-general to parliament.
The controversy over Sarath Fonseka sparked off when DNA
member Vijitha Herath raised the issue when parliament met
on Thursday inquiring as to why Fonseka was absent when the
High Court put off his case enabling him to attend
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe took over from there
and raised the issue when Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa presided
over the sittings.
Later, the Speaker agreed to discuss the matter with the
party leaders to examine the pros and cons of the issue in
However, it appears now the Speaker would take his decision
depending on the legal advice given by the Attorney-General,
but Wickremesinghe told parliament that the Speaker is not
bound by the ruling of the AG and that he could take his
decision independently after having inquired in to the
material facts of the matter in question.
Earlier in the day, Sarath Fonseka met the
Commissioner-General of the Prisons V R de Silva to ask him
to provide with basic facilities afforded to a prisoner.
He asked for a wooden plank so that he could have a better
sleep once the coir mattress is placed on it and a fan and a
He said that all the other prisoners were provided with such
facilities and asked whether he could be transferred to ward
‘M’ where the other armed forces men were held with basic
V R de Silva, who listened to the request attentively, said
he would inform the ministry of the request.
The government, according to political analysts, is heading
for difficult times over the Fonseka issue.
There is an undercurrent of resentment brewing within the
Sangha community especially after the pronouncement made by
Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera, who volunteered to serve
a sentence of life imprisonment along with 100 other monks
in exchange to liberty for Sarath Fonseka.
In their view, Fonseka had rendered a yeoman service to the
country as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and therefore
he deserves to lead a free life without any encumbrances.
Venerable Sobitha’s strong sentiments have gone far; that
the people and the Sangha society has taken notice of the
fact that Sarath Fonseka deserves freedom.
It would be difficult for any government in power if the
widespread public apathy towards the unfolding events
translate in to emotions in the near future owing to
mishandling of affairs under their purview.
On Thursday, Venerable Sobitha on his way to Sri Dalada
Maligawa in Kandy to attend an ‘adhishtana pooja’ aimed at
securing the release of Fonseka met with an accident mid
His vehicle was rammed by another vehicle causing damages
but the monk after a lodging a police complaint continued
his journey in another vehicle.
As Sarath Fonseka missed all his chances to lead a
comfortable life by taking to politics, the government too
missed a great opportunity of perpetuating their vision
among the people by incarcerating Fonseka.
If the government were mindful enough and tactful in its
pursuit for politics would have, pardoned Fonseka explaining
the circumstances under which he was arrested and convicted
by the general court martial.
Such a move would have pushed the government and its leaders
to a higher pedestal and seen an end to Fonseka’s carrier as
a politician, since following a pardon Fonseka would have
been in a difficult position to position him as a politician
with great aptitude.
Political wisdom is important to handle intricate
problems of this nature and a bold political step to free
Fonseka would have helped the government and its leader to
boost their political image and win accolades from the
On the other hand, Fonseka would have been on a difficult
wicket to campaign against the government who by then would
have left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of the
people as great and more humane visionaries the country has
Fonseka as a free man would be compelled to launch a
massive political campaign espousing his cause first to gain
supremacy in the opposition ranks rather than fighting the
This would be impossible for him with the UNP enjoying a
majority share in the opposition.
In 1977, when J R Jayewardene emerged victorious one of his
far-reaching political acts was to scrap the Criminal
Justice Commission appointed by the then Sirima Bandaranaike
government to try the JVP suspects following the 1971
insurrection and granting freedom to Rohana Wijeweera and
the rest of the members of the JVP who were incarcerated
under the CJC law.
JRJ went one step further and banned the enactment of
retrospective legislation under the1978 Constitution.
It took at least 10 years for the JVP to regroup properly
and pose a threat to the government as an armed group.
The prevailing political situation at that stage was
largely responsible for the armed insurrection unleashed by
the JVP that was crushed ruthlessly by President Ranasinghe
Premadasa and his Deputy Defence Minster Ranjan Wijeratne.
Hence, it is time to take a leaf from the past or the
predecessors and act diligently while enhancing the image
Talking about opposition politics it would be difficult
to fathom which way the wind is blowing.
The main opposition UNP lacks cohesiveness to address the
problems that affects the people most. UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe appeared to have consolidated his position
for the time being but discontent among the party youngsters
are simmering down the corridors of ‘Sirikotha’ the party
The major problem faced by them today is their inability to
mobilise their membership at village level. Party leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe, addressing a seminar organised for the
Provincial Councillors in the parliamentary complex,
elaborated on the matter and emphasised the need to a build
the village based UNP organisation as in the past.
Focus on villages
He told the members that they should not depend on the media
to carry their message to the village but should be present
physically in the villages to educate the masses on the
present political trends and build a mass movement to bring
the party back to the threshold of victory.
Provincial Council member Maithri Gunaratne, who made a big
din at the UNP’s Akmeemana organisation meeting over the
presence of party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe there, was
also present at the meeting and was present for the lunch
hosted by the party leader for the Provincial Councillors at
the guest canteen of the Parliamentary complex.
In the meantime, the crisis in the UNP over the delay to
introduce reforms have now taken a different twist when UNP
heavy weight of Galle, Vajira Abeywardene said that, if the
UNP to resurrect itself from the present political quagmire
it should shelve the word “reforms”.
He says that there are enough and more provisions in the
present UNP constitution to change the leadership at the
behest of the membership of the party and that the party
constitution should not be changed according to whims and
fancies of a few.
“The party constitution should be strong in
correspondence to the constitution of the country,” he says.
Abeywardene was apparently throwing his weight behind the
party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is probably trying to
get over the present impasse in the party.
Most of the party men feel that Vajira Abeywardene, who acts
as an apologist for Wickremesinghe, has more intentions than
serving the party.
They feel that the objective behind Abeywardene’s latest
innovations is to secure a slot in the national list at some
point and later to make a beeline to the government benches.
Abeywardene is known as Cambridge Terrace by day and Temple
Trees by night.
Whatever it may be Wickremesinghe now has a disciple who has
the strength to stand against proposed party reforms and to
try and change the attitude of the party men, at his
disposal at least for the time being.
In spite of this, the reformists and the moderates in the
UNP believe that “reforms” are essential for the party to
gather political momentum especially in the rural
hinterlands of the country.
They are of the firm belief that Abeywardene in
particular is in the process of accomplishing a contract
given by the government to keep the party crisis dragging so
that it would be of political advantage for the government.