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Sri Lanka court holds first hearing in case against ex-army chief

The High Court of Sri Lanka [official website] on Thursday conducted the first hearing in the case against former army chief Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who is accused of provoking violence and bringing disrepute to the government. The charges are in relation to statements made to the Sunday Leader [media website] newspaper, which suggested that the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa [BBC profile] ordered the killing of surrendering rebel leaders during the Sri Lankan civil war [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. At the hearing, the court issued 20 summons [DPA report] for witnesses to appear at the trial, which is scheduled for September 27 and is being held without a jury. Fonseka has maintained that he was misquoted [AFP report] by the newspaper. If convicted, Fonseka could face between five and 20 years in prison. Fonseka also faces another pending criminal proceeding and two court-martials charging him with participating in politics while in uniform and with improperly awarding army procurement contracts. Despite this, Fonseka successfully won a seat in parliament in elections held in April. He maintains that the allegations are politically motivated.

In April, Fonseka appeared before the Sri Lankan Parliament [official website] to call for his freedom [JURIST report] and respect for the rule of law. Fonseka argued for his release from what he characterized as an illegal detention and a byproduct of injustice, while also insisting on democratic improvements [BBC report] and institution of the rule of law. He was temporarily released from military custody in order to attend the session, to which he traveled under guard. Earlier that month, Fonseka's trials were postponed [JURIST report] to allow the Court of Appeals of Sri Lanka [official website] to examine the legality of the court-martials. Fonseka was arrested by the military in February [JURIST report] after losing presidential elections held the previous month. In March, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court criticized the treatment of the general [JURIST report]. Sarath Nanda Silva, who retired from the Supreme Court [official website] last year, accused the government of using the military justice system to prevent Fonseka from participating in April elections, and of violating Fonseka's civil rights in violation of the Constitution [text].

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