Beefed up security in Colombo ahead of verdict in White Flag case against Fonseka
Colombo is beefing up security ahead of the delivery of the verdict in the controversial white flag case against former
army commander General Sarath Fonseka. While there are reports that a key witness against Fonseka has fled the country in fear on a Cathay Pacific Flight bound for Hong Kong, police have also moved in a large number of barricades close to the High Court area in the Courts Complex in Huftsdorp, expecting a backlash from Fonseka supporters. Though the verdict will only be officially known tomorrow morning, fueled by rumours and media hype there has been a flurry of speculation in Colombo that the courts will return a guilty verdict to coincide with President Mahinda Rajapakse’s birthday celebrations tomorrow.
The “White Flag” case involves an alleged comment made to a weekly national newspaper by Fonseka during last year’s Presidential election campaign where he had said the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse had ordered the shooting of LTTE leaders who were trying to surrender during the final stages of the war in May 2009.
The former army commander who was largely responsible for the success of the war against the Tamil Tiger Terrorists is charged under Regulations 28 and 29 of the Emergency Regulations (ER) and Section 120 of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka.
He is accused of spreading public disaffection by alleging to a Sri Lankan newspaper during an interview that the powerful defence secretary and presidential sibling Gotabaya Rajapakse had ordered surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders to be shot dead last year.
Ironically when the Sri Lankan newspaper published the interview on December 13, 2009 the incident itself had already made the news many times over. The White Flag Massacre as it was popularly known was a story that had been broken in great detail by the international press and on the web since May 2009.
Meanwhile, Gotabaya Rajapakse who gave evidence at the trial, denied the allegations. Earlier in June 2010 Rajapakse told BBC’s Hard Talk that Fonseka will be tried for treason and hanged if he betrays the country by lying on this matter.
Be that as it may, General Fonseka’s lawyer Nalin Laduwahetty told Lanka Standard the charges carry a maximum prison term of 5 years each under the ER and a maximum of 2 years simple imprisonment under the Penal Code.
The hearing was concluded one month ago on October 18.
Many have labelled the White Flag case to be part of a massive political witch hunt by the Rajapakse regime now grappling accusations of war crimes. Certainly President Rajapakse, who as president enjoys immunity from prosecution, has been nothing if not timely and opportune in his politics. In 2005, he came in on a platform of war promising to eradicate Tamil Tiger terrorism. By May 2009 he had done that.
Despite clamping down on human rights and achieving only modest economic growth, Rajapakse’s re-election victory in January 2010 — an election held almost two years ahead of schedule and just eight months after his military victory — was not surprising. Thousands of civilians died in the military offensive. Video evidence emerged of soldiers summarily executing detainees, amid strenuous denials of such action by the government. And in this backdrop former army commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka — the man who led Sri Lanka’s army to victory — went on record saying orders were given to shoot Tiger leaders attempting to surrender, a statement he later retracted.
Fonseka challenged Rajapakse in the January election, alleging blatant nepotism in Rajapakse’s first term and citing the fact that after assuming office in 2005 the president appointed three of his brothers to high office. Sri Lanka is now governed by the Rajapakse brothers and their offspring who hold powerful cabinet positions. Other Rajapakse relatives also control large numbers of important offices, including diplomatic missions and state owned businesses.
Just six days after Rajapakse’s re-election, Fonseka was arrested and court martialled, presumably for fear he would turn whistle-blower. He is currently serving prison sentences on various charges in two courts martial.
Below are the sections and regulations under which he is charged in the present Trial at Bar.
Section 120 of the Penal Code
“Whoever by words, either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs; or by visible representations, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the President or to the Government of the Republic, or excites or attempts to excite hatred to or contempt of the administration of justice, or excites or attempts to excite the People of Sri Lanka to procure, otherwise than by lawful means, the alteration of any matter by law established, or attempts to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the People of Sri Lanka,or to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of such People, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.”
Regulation 28 of The Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation No. 1 of 2005 (“EMPPR 2005”) states: “No person shall, by words of mouth or by another other means whatsoever, communicate or spread any rumour or false statement which is likely to cause public alarm or public disorder.”
Regulation 29 of the EMPPR 2005 makes it an offence to print, publish or comment on any pictorial, photographic or cinematograph film of the activities of any proscribed organization, any matters relating to Government investigations of a terrorist movement, any matter relating to national security, or “any matter likely, directly or indirectly to create communal tension.