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Sarath Fonseka’s conviction a debatable issue?

By Deepal Warnakulasuriya and Arthur Wamanan

General Sarath Fonseka was sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined Rs. 5,000 on being convicted by two High Court Judges of the three-Judge Trial-at-Bar which heard the well publicized White Flag case. The former Army Commander Fonseka was found guilty by Judges Deepali Wijesundera (President) and Zulfikar Rasheen on the first of the three charges made against him on a statement he had made to a newspaper.
High Court Judge W. T. M. P. B. Warawewa dissented and discharged Fonseka on all three charges in the indictment. The Nation spoke to several politicians and eminent persons to get their comments on any political implications over the judgment.

United National Party Chairman and Kurunegala district MP Gamini Jayawickrema Perera said that it was not the judgment which they were looking at because of two reasons. “The first one is the former Army Commander is a respectable citizen of the country like General Kobbekaduwa and Major General Janaka Perera. The second is the judgment was given on the President’s birthday while whole the country was celebrating it.”
The UNP Chairman also recalled the late President J. R.Jayewardene who told the world after the Second World War not to follow with revenge on others. “The verdict is given now. We have to go with it. I don’t see any current impact over the verdict but we can’t predict about the future. In politics, we have seen some parties go back to zero and rise again. Wait and see”, he added. Asked about any campaign or any plan to work out Fonseka’s release he said the UNP should unite before addressing any such issue.

JVP (People’s Liberation Front) leader Somawansa Amarasinghe said the General Fonseka’s case was a political case and therefore it could have several implications. But he said that what he personally thought was not important and it had to be studied by the Party’s Politburo before making any comments.
However, the JVP Leader said that the country’s administration had collapsed badly and temporary solutions had been created due to that corrupt and crumbling administration. “I am not blaming the judiciary, but all the institutions are bankrupt,” he said. He also added that as a party they had not decided yet on any action to be taken over the freedom of Fonseka, but, the party’s Politburo would be meeting and looking into what could be done.

Jathika Hela Urumaya senior stalwart, Western Province Council member Udaya Gammanpila said that he didn’t foresee any political implications over the judgment given to the former Army Commander or the process. “He has already become a political nonentity due to a previous judgment. According to the Constitution, even after completion of his term in prison, he has to wait another seven years to become a political entity again. That is the dynamic nature of Sri Lankan politics where we exercise an executive system of government.”
He added that Fonseka could appeal to the Supreme Court against his judgment and “Apart from that, nothing else”. He also added that it had nothing to do with being a leader of a political party and he had no barriers to face continuing as the leader of his party. “There is no way to see any political implications over the judgment given to General Fonseka last Friday”, he added.

Sri Jayewardanepura University Political Science lecturer Anuruddha P. Karnasuriya told The Nation that, “first of all, we have to admit that General Fonseka made a blunder somewhere because of his immaturity in politics, though he was a wizard in military strategy. General public saw three heroes; President Mahinda Rajapaksa, General Sarath Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa when the war was going on against the LTTE terror outfit. Therefore, they do not want to see any of their heroes being intimidated or isolated by anyone. Now what is going on in the society is dissatisfaction and the government has to realize that general perception”.
Lecturer Karnasuriya said that first mistake General Fonseka had made was to talk much without realising his limits in public statements. “The second was he was not humble enough to accept his defeat at the Presidential Election. And again, he failed to realise that the UNP and JVP were using him to defeat the present regime,” he said.

He added that he did not expect the case to make a major impact in politics, but said “When we go before society, he is seen as a hero, and therefore, the people are not satisfied with the judgment. People still seem to think that though he did something wrong, he should not have been punished.”
Head of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), Attorney-at-Law, J. C. Weliamuna said that people had begun to lose faith in the judicial system.
Speaking to The Nation, he said that the withdrawal of cases filed against criminals due to political pressure had created doubts among the people.

“There are instances where cases filed against criminals, proven with evidence, are withdrawn due to political pressure. Such instances result in people losing their faith on the judiciary. This should not be so,” he said.
“The Attorney General has the responsibility to be independent. We need a strong legal fraternity. There should be a concrete effort by the lawyers to build the confidence among the people,” he said.
Weliamuna also spoke on the reaction of the people soon after the verdict was given to former army commander Sarath Fonseka on Friday.

He said there was a huge dissention among the people soon after the verdict was given adding that he had never experienced such a response from the people in his career.
“People were shouting and hooting. Never have I seen such a thing in my 20 years of experience. There have been instances in the past where judges were pelted with stones. But, never in court houses,” he said.
Open University Political Science lecturer Athulasiri Samarakoon commenting on the verdict said that reconciliation was required not only among different ethnic communities but also among political parties as well. “Though we positively expect that ‘impossible’ to happen in politics, what we currently experience is something which has perennially taken place among political rivals – revenge and we term this as continuity of political revenge in the post war context in Sri Lanka”, he said.

“General Fonseka’s role as the army chief should have been secured by the current regime. A successful democracy cannot be established without checks and balances properly put in place; if the judiciary is not independent and if media freedom is not guaranteed. Fonseka’s imprisonment happens in such a context which he himself had a huge role to play in creating it”.

“The defeat of the LTTE with a huge humanitarian tragedy attached to it has just given breathing space for the ordinary people of this country, but when they find they have lost their freedom in several other spheres, that will be the starting point of freedom struggle for ordinary men. Fonseka certainly had that rare quality of bravery which most of our politicians lack when it comes to fight the evil and injustice and his imprisonment is a huge death blow to the democratic system of this country; it symbolizes the silencing of the dissent,” said Samarakoon