Colombo: Sri Lanka’s war hero Sarath Fonseka walked free from prison today on a presidential pardon after spending two years behind bars for crossing swords with the powerful President and dabbling into politics.
The former Army Chief, who went on from being a war hero to a presidential challenger to a convict in a short span of time, was greeted to tumultuous cheers from a large gathering of supporters as he stepped out of the prison premises.
The release came two days after President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed orders to release the 61-year-old from prison where he was serving a three year prison term in connection with what is known as the ‘white flag’ case.
“I pay tribute to people who supported me. I will devote my life for the people,” Fonseka declared as he came out of the gates of the main Welikada prison.
Fonseka’s journey to freedom began this morning when he was discharged from the private hospital where he was receiving treatment for a lung complication.
He was escorted by prison officials to the Supreme Court where he went through the formalities of withdrawing two appeals he had filed over two previous convictions.
Rajapaksa on Saturday had signed papers of pardon for his former Army commander turned political rival and the withdrawal of Fonseka’s appeals were mandatory to the presidential orders coming into effect.
Fonseka, the man credited with leading the Sri Lankan Army to victory over the LTTE was under detention since February 2010, just two weeks after he unsuccessfully challenged Rajapaksa in the presidential election.
He was dragged away by the military and kept under military detention until early October when he was incarcerated.
A military court found him guilty for adopting wrong procedure as the head of the Army’s tender board and sentenced to a 30 month jail term.
Thereafter he faced two more court cases.
He was condemned to a 3-year jail term in the ‘white flag case’ where he was charged with causing public disaffection against the state for saying that the defence establishment had ordered the killings of LTTE cadres who had surrendered with white flags.
He was facing the third case in which he was charged for harbouring military deserters.
He was finally able to reunite with his family — his wife Anoma and two daughters — after a period of 28 months during which local and international pressure mounted on the Rajapaksa government to free him.
The US State Department’s 2011 human rights report branded Fonseka, who is a US green card holder, as a ‘political prisoner’.
Fonseka was elected to Sri Lankan parliament in the April 2010 parliamentary election from the opposition Democratic National Alliance (DNA) but was unseated following his conviction.
The former Army chief’s political plans were not immediately clear. His alliance with the two opposition groups, UNP and JVP now lies in tatters.