The former chief of the Sri Lankan army has been released after serving more than two years in prison.
Sarath Fonseka was arrested 28 months ago for daring to stand against Mahinda Rajapaksa for the presidency in tandem with a falling out between the two men. The official charge against Fonseka was corruption.
Prior to his incarceration, Fonseka was widely hailed for the government’s final victory over the Tamil Tigers rebels after decades of a civil war which killed at least 100,000 people.
Rajapaksa, now the president of the South Asian island nation, signed the release order for his old rival over the weekend.
The release followed a recent meeting in Washington between Sri Lankan Foreign Minister GL Peiris and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The U.S. government had described Fonseka as a “political prisoner.”
One of his fervent supporters, Athula Dhabare, told reporters that Fonseka indeed was a political prisoner and should have been set free long ago. He is the true leader who liberated this country from 30 years of war.
Fonseka has also been officially pardoned.
I will devote my life [to] my people, Fonseka declared as he left the high security Welikada jail, according to Agence France Presse, while his supporters set off firecrackers across the capital of Colombo to celebrate.
I will sacrifice my life to serve the people of this country, even if they put me in prison for 10 years, I will not stop performing my duty.
Fonseka also declared: I will not betray the people who stood behind me. I will save the country. The people will correct the injustice caused to me... I was a victim of a vendetta.”
About 2,000 jubilant supporters greeted Fonseka outside the prison gates, cheering: Victory to our war hero! Victory to our leader!
However, human rights groups claim that both Fonseka and Rajapaksa were complicit in the killing of rebel Tamils as they tried to surrender, suggesting they may be war criminals.
It is unclear if Fonseka still harbors any plans for a renewed political career.