Sri Lanka ex-minister arrested for news conference gets bail
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan court granted bail Monday to a former Cabinet minister who was arrested for participating in a news conference about abductions of critics under the government of the current president’s brother.
Police arrested Rajitha Senaratne, now an opposition lawmaker, last week at a private hospital where he was receiving treatment.
Opposition lawmakers have criticized his detention, saying it is politically motivated and is part of a government witch hunt of political opponents that has taken place since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed duties last month.
Senaratne has previously undergone heart surgery. Police arrested him on Friday, and he continued to remain at the hospital under the detention of prison guards.
On Monday, a magistrate court granted him bail on two sureties of 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($2,766) each, said his lawyer Gunaratna Wanninayaka.
Senaratne was the second opposition lawmaker to be arrested and detained since Rajapaksa’s election victory in November. Former Cabinet minister Patali Champika Ranawaka was arrested last week over a 2016 traffic accident and was released on bail. Opposition lawmakers also said Ranawaka’s arrest was political retribution.
Both Senaratne and Ranawaka were Cabinet members in the government of Rajapaksa’s brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They defected on the eve of the 2015 presidential election, triggering the fall of that government.
Senaratne was arrested following an order issued by the attorney general to police to obtain a warrant for Senaratne’s arrest over a Nov. 10, 2019, news conference during the campaign for the most recent presidential election, which Gotabaya Rajapaksa won by a comfortable margin.
At the news conference led by Senaratne, two people described “white van” squads that abducted critics under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. The two who spoke were arrested earlier and are being held by police.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was the top defense official in his brother’s government from 2005 to 2015, has been accused of overseeing the abductions. Some victims were returned after being tortured, while others were never seen again. He has denied the allegation.