Sri Lankan bishop 'disturbed' at arrest of former army chief

By staff writers
February 15, 2010

The Anglican Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera has expressed deep concern over the arrest of retired former army chief Sarath Fonseka, as Sri Lanka faces yet more political turmoil.

The order for the arrest was issued in the midst of unprecedented security, as thousands of protesters had clashed with a pro-government group last week.

"The manner of the arrest and detention of General Sarath Fonseka has disturbed all Sri Lankans who value dignity and order in public affairs," said Bishop Chickera in his strong public statement on the issue. "The world has also expressed concern over these happenings and their implications on the rights of individual citizens and the democratic integrity of our beloved Sri Lanka."

The church leader, who has been a strong advocate of human rights, continued: "Whatever opinion people may have of General Fonseka, militarily or politically, all fair minded Sri Lankans are disappointed with the way a highly rated former Army Commander and his associates have been treated. It is a blot on the democratic, cultural and religious traditions and image of our country."

He declared: "The people are also confused with the several and even conflicting reasons given for this action. If there have been violations of the military code, it must be left to the Military to handle professionally. If he was arrested for planning a coup and the assassination of the President, which are very grave charges, the people should know the basis of this allegation. In either case he should be entitled to his rights, including appropriate medical care and the right to defend himself with due access to lawyers and legal advisers.

"In the event that the prevailing confusion is not clarified and a transparent judicial process is not set in place, this action is likely to be interpreted as an attempt to humiliate a presidential candidate who fought a hard campaign, or an attempt to obstruct him from campaigning and participating at the forthcoming general election; or both. The people’s right to clear information on such a serious matter regarding such a prominent personality should not be withheld," said the Bishop of Colombo.

A three-judge bench of Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has granted legal representatives of the arrested former army chief permission to proceed on a case that questions the violation of their client's fundamental rights and the legality of his arrest on Monday 8 February 2010 by government forces.

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