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‘Legal proceedings guided by political vendetta’

world Updated: Sep 29, 2010 00:41 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The International Commission of Jurists’ new report appreciated the government’s effort in first separating 565 child soldiers and then rehabilitating them.

But most of its remaining 40 pages were an indictment on how 8,000 Tamils with suspected Tiger links — dumped in detention centres since April-May, 2009 — have no access to anything resembling a trial or judicial review.

Under Emergency laws here, it is legal to do so — both preventive and administrative detentions without trials are allowed. “The longstanding state of emergency powers has led to a situation in which the use of exceptional powers has become the rule,’’ the report said, adding that there was little evidence to argue that mass detention of suspects was required.

I couldn’t help but contrast the case of the detainees outside the law for 16 months now with that of the nationalist Sinhalese and sometime war hero, Sarath Fonseka.

Fonseka was arrested on unspecified charges February 8. Since then the speed of his access to the judicial process has been remarkable.

But unlike the detainees who remain incarcerated without trials, Fonseka’s punishments following trials are being pronounced rapidly, raising questions about the government’s motives. Two court martials were over in seven months. In August, the first found him engaging in politics while in service and removed his uniform and medals.

The second indictment came days ago and could put him in jail for under three years, if President Mahinda Rajapaksa approves the court martial board’s recommendation. He was charged with corruption and not declaring his son-in-law’s connection to a company from which military equipment was bought; deadly equipment like binoculars, batteries, generators and direction finders. (The son-in-law himself is missing for months.)

Fonseka’s trial in civil courts has also begun. Including one in which he is accused of alleging that defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, ordered the execution of surrendering LTTE leaders.

If indicted, that would mean a heavier jail sentence.

At least Fonseka himself as an MP and his leftist political colleagues have made noise in Parliament that the legal proceedings were guided by political vendetta and a sham. But for the thousands of faceless Tamil detainees, the trial in itself is a guarantee that they don’t have.