A court in Sri Lanka has ordered release of 14 supporters of the defeated opposition consensus Presidential candidate General (retired) Sarath Fonseka. They were held on February 8 in a raid on the election office of General Fonseka on charges that they were part of the coup plotted by the commander turned politician to overthrow the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government.
Local media reports said that Colombo Magistrate Champa Rajaratne released the accused, including 10 retired army officers, as police had failed to establish proof of their involvement in the alleged plot hatched by the former Army Chief.
General Fonseka is currently under military custody and being tried under the military act as he had quit the service less than six months ago.
The persons released by the court had been working at General Fonseka's campaign office from where the ex-army chief was also arrested by the military. However, unlike General Fonseka these persons were not charged under the military law.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary and brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an interview to the Singapore based Straits Times had insisted that the government has enough evidence on the charges against General Fonseka. He said they were so serious that he could be sentenced to five years in jail.
The case of Sri Lankan military against retired General is that he (Fonseka), while serving as the member of the sensitive Security Council of the country, had interacted with political parties and leaders who were working against the government.
The retired General has challenged his arrest in the Supreme Court and the case is posted for further hearing on February 23.Opposition parties which backed General Fonseka have demanded his immediate release and said they feared for his safety in military custody. Several other countries and human rights organisations have urged the government to follow due course of law and not to let the atmosphere to be vitiated ahead of the April 8 parliamentary elections.
In his media interview the Defence Secretary has linked General Fonseka to the brutal murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickremtunga. The Editor was killed by unidentified gun men in January last year and till date the authorities have not able to track them down. “Yes, of course. We know there was no other person. You have to see the circumstances.
Some of the media people harmed had never criticised any other person except him, or people close to him. Nothing happened to those who had been criticising me or the President. “We have a clue as to whom he has used. We are very convinced. In fact, I know for sure. He was definitely responsible for 5 or 6 cases [of disappearances] where media people were involved,” he told Straits Times.