By Karu Jayasuriya
As a Sri Lankan ex-Army Officer and a person who believes strongly that those who have contributed towards the welfare of this nation should be shown unending gratitude, Thursday was one of the saddest days of my life. Two days ago, the Four Star General hailed by the defence secretary just 18 months ago as ‘The World’s Greatest Army Commander’ has been judged by a Military Court and interned at the Welikada prison like a petty criminal.
Day after day, at the hands of the present administration, the death bells are tolling for Sri Lankan democracy; two weeks ago it was with the passing of the 18th Amendment which established a virtual dictatorship in this country and now, with the heavy hand of the executive presidency moving to reduce a victorious army general to the level of a common inmate at the Welikada prison.
By incarcerating General Sarath Fonseka and stripping him of his dignity, this regime has shown its callous and brutal hand, and the lengths to which it will go to seek vengeance from the man who dared to stand against them. For if there is anyone in this country who still believes that General Sarath Fonseka was meted out this treatment for any other reason other than the fact that he dared to contest at the presidential election in January, they are sadly mistaken. Irrespective of political affiliation, divergent ideologies or differences of personal opinion, nobody who is true to his conscience can believe that the treatment of General Fonseka has been just by any stretch of the imagination.
As politicians we have made innumerable statements calling for restraint, justice and the adherence to democratic norms in the ‘court action’ against Sarath Fonseka and his prolonged incarceration at Naval Headquarters. We have urged the public to rise up against this shabby treatment of the army general they once adored. The fact that General Fonseka has been reduced to nothing but a number at Welikada Prison today is not only a testament to the cruelty of a vengeful regime but also an indictment of our collective failure as an opposition to prevent such a travesty of justice.
Even up to the last minute, many believed that the President would refuse to endorse the sentence decreed by the Court Martial. They chose to believe in the humanity of their president, that even at this late stage, he would exercise mercy towards his former commander and lay the matter to rest. I ask these eternal optimists now, have you finally woken up to the reality that the present regime show mercy only unto their own? Has it dawned on you now that the person who disguises himself as a great democrat, is morphing into a dictator, incapable of showing justice or humanity to anybody who no longer serves his purpose?
September 30, 2010 was a day that marked a great victory for the terrorists General Fonseka and his men fought to defeat in Sri Lanka’s north and east. The present regime has incarcerated and neutralized the man who killed the dream of Eelam for the LTTE, the main architect of his war against the Tigers and the man Vellupillai Prabhakaran himself was so desperate to dispose of. Gen. Fonseka is to be treated like any other prisoner at Welikada, engaging in hard labour and mingling with the hoi polloi of prison society, no doubt an insidious strategy to ensure that his life will be in constant danger and his enemies will have free access to wreak their vengeance upon him. In a BBC interview a few months ago, Defence Secretary claimed that he would ‘hang’ General Fonseka for daring to contradict the government. We the people are left wondering today if this incarceration is the first step in a process of ‘hanging’.
As an elderly politician and a man who has experienced a great deal of change during my lifetime, I find myself dismayed at what our once proud nation has been reduced to. Sri Lanka, when did we lose our collective conscience, when did we forsake truth and principle and become so gullible to propaganda?
If the people of this country stay silent when such injustice and cruelty is being perpetuated against a man who was not so long ago the hero that was fighting for our freedom from terrorism, who will fight for them when the cruel hand of this regime moves against them and their loved ones? As a citizenry that has suffered so much during a 30 year conflict, how is it that we will allow such injustices in peace time? Have we not then traded in one megalomaniac dictator for another?
On this sad day, my thoughts are with the Fonseka family, Anoma and her two brave daughters who have withstood so much in this past year. You have set a glorious example for the people of this country about what it means to be fearless, dignified and principled. You could have chosen an easier course, yet you opted to fight and someday, when the history of this nation is written, the Fonseka family will be immortalized for their courageous stand against all odds. I wish for you more strength, more force of will and peace that comes from the knowledge that you have stood on the side of the truth.
I appeal to all the people of this country and especially the Buddhist Clergy and leaders of political parties to join the movement against the dictatorial behaviour of this regime. This regime no longer has the legitimacy or moral high ground to represent us. It has betrayed the people at every turn and now it has meted out cruel justice against Sri Lanka’s greatest army chief, just because he dared to stand against the nepotism and corruption of this administration.
I beg you, stand up now and take the fight to the government or prepare to lose everything you hold sacred in the very near future. Remember that the limits of tyrants are prescribed only by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Make a pledge today that you will not endure any more. For democratic Sri Lanka, the time has come. Shall we, the people fight to save our country as we know it, or be content to let collective apathy lead us back into bondage?
(Statement by Deputy Leader UNP, Karu Jayasuriya, on Sarath Fonseka’s incarceration)