by Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Prison cell at Navy Headquarters
20th July 2010
My dear Sri Lankans living here and overseas, members of the armed forces, police and home guards, families of the war heroes, friends and relatives.
I write this as a political prisoner who has been confined to a prison cell for more than five months, deprived of many liberties that one would take for granted in a democratic society. A number of spurious charges have been framed against me by the vengeful Rajapaksa regime for simply daring to contest the presidential election against Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In the past, this country cherished and respected the democratic rights of the people, giving them the freedom to exercise their franchise, independently and without prejudice. Standing up for what a person believed in was never deemed a crime, nor was that person harassed, intimidated and treated as an enemy by those who were in power. In the past, our leaders conducted themselves as statesmen/stateswomen and did not resort to intimidating or imprisoning their political opponents. But that was then. Here I am today, forced into solitary confinement and treated as a criminal simply because I chose to exercise my democratic rights.
I’m not saddened about being confined to a prison cell, but what pains me is the overall situation in the country where the people have been subjugated, through fear and intimidation, against voicing their opinion on any issues, be it governance, economic wellbeing, the rule of law or their rights.
In the run-up to the presidential election, the Rajapaksa regime talked about Hitler and Idi Amin. Looking back, I feel somewhat relieved, that although my victory was stolen, people now know who the real Hitlers and Idi Amins are. In the past, our leaders, no matter what party they were elected from, never behaved in the inhuman, unjust or undemocratic manner of the present Head of State. Actually, I feel proud that I made the right decision, although risky, to shed my uniform and challenge this tyrannical regime, which is suppressing the rights of the people and violating all democratic norms. I am certain the larger percentage of the population agrees with me and this has given me the inspiration and the motivation to continue with my fight for a just society even if this means more spurious charges will be framed against me and I may have to spend another 10 to 15 years in jail.
I am 59 years old now. Up until my incarceration I lead a very successful life and when I die, I can do so, content that I saved my motherland not only from the scourge of terrorism but also prevented it from being dissected into separate states.
My mother died at the age of 72 and my father at age 76. I may, despite the tension of living in a war situation and the present imprisonment, follow in my father’s footsteps and live to see my 75th birthday. This means I have another 15 years left in me and even if I am to spend these 15 years in jail for my country and for my people, I will die content in the knowledge that everything I’ve done, I’ve done for my beloved country and her people.
However, I am not prepared to just roll over and die just because the regime wishes so. On the contrary I am determined to fight with every breath I have to save my country and my people from this despotic regime, which will never give due consideration for welfare of the people and will always put the needs of a few in power above the needs of the masses.
I know the task I have undertaken is extremely risky in the present day context. But I will never give up and am even ready to sacrifice my life for the people of this country, as I have nothing to lose. In the worst case scenario, my wife will lose a husband and my children their father, but it would be a worthy task, as my family and I have spent a long time together when compared with the families of war heroes, who lost their loved ones early in life.
On June 23 my younger daughter, who is still an undergraduate, celebrated her 24th birthday. I wished her over the phone from my prison cell, knowing her eyes were filled with tears as were mine. Every time I speak on the phone to my elder daughter, I know she too has tears in her eyes and that she lives in fear, concerned for the welfare of her husband who is in hiding, fearing for his life.
We had my mother-in-law’s seventh day alms giving on June 23. Although I should have been there by my wife’s side, I did not request permission to attend the ceremony as I knew it would be a waste of time and effort. Partway through the ceremony, my wife visited me for few minutes and left with tears in her eyes.
So life in confinement is indeed tearful and painful for me. But I do not regret my decision to enter politics, and will endure agony with a smile, for the sake of the future of my people and my country.
It has been more than a year since we liberated the country from the grip of terrorism. I feel overwhelmed when I reflect on what we finally achieved, and the sheer dedication, commitment and hard work of the forces during the two years and nine months battle that brought about the historic victory. No one thought my promise to defeat the scourge of terrorism would become a reality. But we proved otherwise. This was possible because of the courage and conviction of the valiant members of our security forces, some of who made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
Those who have no idea about the hard work and commitment that ensured victory, will obviously, not have much respect for the soldiers who sacrificed much and will not think twice about putting them behind bars or terminating their services. I get emotional when I think of the injustice committed on these war heroes and it pains me greatly, when I think about the thousands of young men who sacrificed their lives and others who were rendered disabled by just carrying out my orders to achieve our common goal – to eradicate terrorism and liberate the country.
However, it is even more painful to look at the post war situation and acknowledge that instead of using the golden opportunity to ensure that a terrorism free Sri Lanka prospers and her people live in a free country, the present administration has used the freedom to subvert democracy, suppress the people and augment the powers of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers.
Although the government commemorated the war heroes in the victory parade, it was not done in the true spirit of respecting those who contributed to the war victory. It was purely another self- glorifying event and yet another opportunity to vilify me. Significantly, I was not invited to the event, even as a Member of Parliament, though all MP’s were invited. It is indeed a pitiful situation when the Commander in Chief celebrates the war victory, while ensuring the army commander who won him the war languishes in prison.
I was not given an opportunity to witness the victory parade that saw those who were commanded and guided to victory by me marching proudly on. However, I could hear them on parade and I could see the air force fly-past through the 12- inch gap over the sealed window of my prison cell in the 3rd floor of the Navy junior officers’ quarters. I watched the fly-past with tears in my eyes and thanked the air force for granting me at least that much. My tears were not of sadness, but those of joy, because I had the satisfaction of being the person who paved the way for the victory that was being celebrated out there.
I may be the only General to have experienced such a situation, subsequent to orchestrating a grand war victory. In a normal scenario, a victorious General will be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. But sadly it has not been so in Sri Lanka. Our Commander in Chief has instead sought to ruin the General and weaken the army by destroying its spirit.
It is distressing to see the manner in which the military is being politicised. I have always taken immense pride in the fact that I managed to instill discipline in the army and transform it into a model outfit that inculcated professionalism above all else. This is why we were able to liberate the country from the 30-year grip of terrorism. But the Rajapaksa regime, though appreciative of the achievements of the army, have embarked on a devious course of politicization that may well destroy it at the end.
The services of many professional officers were terminated with scant respect for the future of their families, because these officers, who under my command, held very important and sensitive positions during the crucial stage of the battle. Losing these Generals, Brigadiers, Colonels and many senior officers is a great blow for the army and has caused irreparable damage to its morale. It has also paved the way for the Rajapaksa regime to promote those officers who worked on a political agenda, were undisciplined and made no contribution to winning the war.
Watching this process of politicisation gives me immense pain and I worry the future of the army may indeed be very bleak. Evidence of this is the manner in which the Defence Minister and the Defence Secretary have been treating the victorious army. This has succeeded in silencing the other services, including the police, all of whom, after seeing what happed to the army have decided, though thoroughly discontent, to remain silent.
It is not necessary for me to elucidate further on the sorry state of affairs in the military as the truth will come to light before long. The present Commander has turned the army into a frightened, suspicious and a demoralised unit, a far cry from what it was during my command. In a bid to please his political bosses, he also orchestrated the most insulting and reprehensible task when he ordered the army to arrest its own Commander. These types of shameless incidents have never occurred in any other army.
The future of the country will finally be decided by the people. I am only making an attempt to get the people to understand what is good or bad for the country. Some may be happy just being able to survive, not realising how good and beautiful their lives can be in a truly democratic society. I urge everyone in this wonderful country of ours, to be concerned about their rights to be partners in governance while enjoying a free life in a just society where the resources are used for the development of the country and not stolen by the corrupt politicians.
The prevalent sense of complacency is unfortunate as is the belief that keeping politicians in power happy is easier and safer than demanding and working towards ensuring that democratic rights are upheld.
Although I’m living under extremely dangerous conditions, courtesy the Rajapaksa regime targeting me, my family, my friends and my political supporters, I will not give up my struggle to reinstate a genuine democracy with its accompanying freedoms and governing practices.
I believe genuine democracy is only enjoyed by the people in the western world today. A majority of Sri Lankans are unaware of this as they have never seen the political conditions in those countries and our corrupt politicians are exploiting this short coming. Sri Lankans must realise the value of their franchise and use it wisely to ensure they elect those who will govern in a democratic manner benefitting the people rather than a selected few.
My struggle to ensure the welfare of the people and keep politicians in their due places will continue. I know I will be targeted by the Rajapaksa regime as I am challenging a dictatorship. The Rajapaksa regime has exhibited its tyrannical disposition by depriving me of my rights just because I was Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political opponent at the presidential election. They did not stop with simply targeting me but continue to shamelessly target my family too.
As my daughter has very rightly written, even Velupillai Prabhakaran had shown he had some principles as he did not target the families of his military or political opponents. But the so called Head of State of this country won’t spare even the family members of his political opponents. He has shown who the real Idi Amin is.
Sri Lanka needs discipline too. To ensure this we are in dire need of a clean government. The most undisciplined are the politicians who don’t even seem to respect parliamentary decorum. At times I feel ashamed of being a politician due to the utterances our politicians make in the august assembly. This behaviour is even watched at times by school children from the gallery and the filthy comments made by politicians are even written in the Hanzard. Nobody can deny this. At times this behavior is appreciated by their political bosses. Our future generation must endeavor to ensure our society becomes disciplined and is respected by the outside world.
Recently a journalist asked Mr. Robert Blake, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and one of the secretaries of US State Department, “What about Sri Lanka. In the USA and India they don’t put people in jail or court martial them after they lose election.” This question indicates where we stand as far as democracy is concerned. It is a shame to be judged in this manner when it comes to the image of the country. But for the Rajapaksa regime nothing is shameful if they can continue to remain in power.
My beloved citizens, the time has come to join hands to move forward and bring prosperity to the country without getting fooled by corrupt politicians. Ask to yourself whether the corrupt politicians who made grandiose promises to you during elections have really delivered. My appeal to the youth is to unite and help bring about changes to the existing political system. Help rid the country of the scourge of corruption and ensure those elected have a genuine love for the country and are qualified to govern.
We did not eradicate terrorism and save the country for corrupt politicians to destroy it. The war heroes sacrificed themselves to ensure a free and just country for the future generation. This beautiful country belongs to all citizens be they clergy, layman, professionals, farmers, labourers, fishermen or businessmen, but not to corrupt politicians.
So let’s join hands to make Sri Lanka a beautiful and peaceful country once again. We need to be determined in our endeavour, for certainly the journey is going to be difficult and tough. All we need is your conviction. I will give everything to see this country prosper. I don’t need anything in return.
My ambition is to see a country where the people have a government of their own, achieved by them for them. My ambition is to see a country with adults and children who love the flora and fauna, the streams and rivers, the sea and the shore, the green valleys and the paddy fields, the mountains and estates, the culture and the people as a whole. My ambition is to see a country where the judiciary prevails to protect the people without interference from corrupt politicians. My ambition is to see a government, which does not exploit, fool or cheat the people, governing this country and considering the people as its biggest wealth. My ambition is to see a disciplined society where examples can be set by the politicians. My ambition is to see a nation with hope not despair.
The day I achieve my ambition I will handover this beautiful country of ours to the future generation, and willingly face my death.
The war started when I was a junior captain in the army. I changed my lifestyle, curtailed my social activities and kept aspiring for a day for this country would be free of terrorism. I made many sacrifices to convert those aspirations into reality. Today I am aspiring for a better Sri Lanka and am prepared to make any sacrifices to ensure my aspirations are fulfilled.
I love my country and my people irrespective of cast, creed, race or religion. Please think about Mother Lanka. My best wishes and good luck are with you always.
Gen. Sarath Fonseka (Rtd)