Protesters rally outside the prison in Colombo where former army chief Sarath Fonseka is being held
Rights activists and relatives of political prisoners gathered yesterday outside the capital’s main prison to urge the government to release former army chief Sarath Fonseka and other political prisoners. Thousands of protesters donned black clothing and carried placards during what was dubbed by demonstrators as a ‘Black Protest’. Demonstrators shouted “Broke the laws and made laws” and “One year and six months – haven’t you any shame,” referring to the length of time Fonseka has been detained. The former general, credited with defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam after nearly 30 years of civil war, was arrested on February 8, 2010, and charged with illegal arms trading and conspiracy to topple the government after an unsuccessful run for president against Mahinda Rajapaksa, who won the election the previous month. Fonseka is currently serving a 30-month sentence. “We urge the government to release all political prisoners and restore democracy in the country,” said Chandraguptha Thenuwara, a Sri Lankan artist and lecturer at the Fine Arts University in Colombo. “The government has violated our citizens’ democratic rights and kept political prisoners in jail without proper legal action. It is totally wrong,” said Thenuwara. “Every citizen should have political rights.” Religious leaders have made several previous calls for the release of Fonseka. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka appealed unsuccessfully for his release last year. “The government conducts state terrorism while showing democracy to the world,” said Wickramabahu Karunaratne, a civil rights activist, at the demonstration, which was organized by the People’s Movement for Democracy. Activists have long sought the whereabouts of Tamil prisoners who disappeared during years of civil strife. “We have a responsibility to join the struggle to release political prisoners and bring them justice,” said Harsha Nadeera, a Christian rights activist. Father S. Ainsley Roshan, a chaplalin for prisoners in Jaffna diocese who did not attend the demonstration, said the issue of political prisoners was a pressing concern for the country. “The government should take immediate action to do what is required for justice,” he said yesterday.