Enemies are friends, saviour is enemy

  • Beg your pardon Justice Minister, come again?
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

There is a paradox in the manner in which this Government deals with certain issues, as was evident during the committee stage debate of the Budget, when the votes of the Ministries of Justice, Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms got under way.

Most Government members were proud to boast about the presence of over a 100 female ex LTTE combatants in the public galleries, to witness parliamentary proceedings last Friday, as a success story, while none of them were sympathetic to the call by several Opposition legislators for the immediate release of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, who played a pivotal role in the defeat of the LTTE, which in turn, has made it possible for one time members of the terrorist group to visit the Legislature, as a part of the move to integrate them back into society.

It was UNP Kandy district MP Lakshman Kiriella who raised the issue of a pardon for the former Army Commander, by calling on Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem to intervene, to have Mr. Fonseka released immediately.

“Mr. Hakeem supported Mr. Fonseka at the last presidential election. He is now the Minister of Justice so I am asking him to give freedom to Sarath Fonseka,” Mr. Kiriella said. The UNP MP said that the Justice Ministry Secretary has written on several occasions to the President, asking him to pardon people who have been convicted, and asked that the same be done in the case of Mr. Fonseka.

“Ninety per cent of the people of this country want him released. He is considered a political prisoner by the entire world. The Minister can intervene and have him pardoned,” Mr. Kiriella said.

There were more vociferous calls for Mr. Fonseka’s release by Democratic National Alliance (DNA) parliamentarian Jayantha Katagoda, as well as UNP Kalutara district MP Palith Thevarapperuma, who had to shout to be heard over interruptions from Government members, some of whom have made a habit of reacting loudly to any mention of the former army commander.

Minister Hakeem said that the Justice Ministry follows a certain procedure when it comes to granting a pardon to a convicted person, and for it to be considered, a request should come from either the prisoner or his family.

“If such a request comes, we can certainly consider it,” Mr. Hakeem said. It was while the heated exchanges centering on the fate of the former Army Commander were taking place that around 100 female ex LTTE combatants sat in the public galleries of Parliament.

Several Government members pointed to the success of the Government’s postwar rehabilitation and reintegration programme for the presence of the ex-combatants to witness the parliamentary process at work, but few had the patience to listen to Opposition legislators, when they spoke on behalf of the former Army commander.

Minister of Prison Reforms and Rehabilitation, Chandrasiri Gajadeera said that the former Army Commander was being given the best possible treatment while in prison, with him being taken for medical attention to a private hospital, when the need arose.

“He makes statements to the media every time he is taken out, which is a violation of the Prison Ordinance. But it has been tolerated,” the Minister pointed out.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, Parliament sittings came to an abrupt end due to the absence of Opposition speakers during the committee stage debate of the Budget. It happened when the votes of the Ministry of Petroleum Industries was being discussed

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