COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan court on Tuesday granted bail to a former Cabinet minister who was arrested last week over a years-old traffic accident, a detention the opposition says is part of a government witch hunt of political opponents.
Patali Champika Ranawaka’s political defection in 2014 triggered the fall of a government led by the brother of the current president. Opposition lawmakers say his arrest was politically motivated.
The Magistrate court in Colombo permitted the release of Ranawaka on bail and ordered him to report to police once a month. It also ordered him to refrain from influencing witnesses.
Ranawaka told reporters after his release that he would continue to fight for “democracy and freedom” and that “handcuffs and prisons” cannot stop his struggle.
Ranawaka was arrested last week over a 2016 traffic accident in which a young motorcyclist was seriously injured.
He was Sri Lanka’s urban development minister before the election of current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Nov. 16.
His release came a day after about 200 opposition lawmakers and supporters protested in Colombo to condemn his arrest.
On Tuesday, opposition lawmaker Ajith Perera accused the government of using police as a tool to harass and destroy political opponents.
In a separate case, a court imposed a foreign travel ban on Monday on another former Cabinet minister at the request of police, which are investigating his alleged involvement in organizing a news conference on abductions that took place under the government headed by Rajapaksa’s brother, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Two people who spoke at the news conference about alleged abductions are now in the custody of police.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was the top defense official in his brother’s government from 2005 to 2015, has been accused of overseeing what were known as “white van” squads that whisked away critics.
Some were returned after being tortured. Others were never seen again.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has denied the allegation.