Sri Lanka ex-chief justice criticizes military trial for detained opposition leader

[JURIST] The former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on Monday 15 March criticized the government’s treatment of detained opposition leader General Sarath Fonseka. Sarath Nanda Silva, who retired from the Sri Lankan Supreme Court last year, accused the government of using the military justice system to prevent Fonseka from participating in the upcoming elections scheduled for April 8, and of violating Fonseka’s civil rights. Silva’s charge implicates Fonseka’s presence in the military, rather than civilian system, which he says provides no recourse for Fonseka. Silva also said that Fonseka’s arrest was made in violation of the country’s constitution. The military has charged Fonseka with mixing politics with the military, and improperly awarding procurement contracts. Fonseka’s court-martial hearing begins on Tuesday 16 March. Fonseka is also scheduled for a hearing before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on April 26, where he will challenge his detention.

Also Monday, Sri Lanka criticized a US State Department report, released last week, which accused Sri Lanka of violating its citizens’ civil rights. Last month, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court rejected a petition to release Fonseka, who was taken into custody in early February. Also in February, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who defeated Fonseka in the January election, dissolved parliament and called for early parliamentary elections in an attempt to harness momentum from his victory to gain more seats in parliament for his political party, Freedom Alliance. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled last month that Rajapaksa’s second term will begin in November. Fonseka has disputed the election results, citing vote counting irregularities and violence.

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