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Bangladesh: Chief Justice Ousted after Resisting PM’s Demands, Memoir Says

Pulack Ghatack
Dhaka
2018-09-20
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Surendra Kumar Sinha, Bangladesh’s former chief justice, talks with reporters in front of his home before leaving for Australia, Oct. 13, 2017.
Surendra Kumar Sinha, Bangladesh’s former chief justice, talks with reporters in front of his home before leaving for Australia, Oct. 13, 2017.
Monirul Alam/BenarNews

Bangladesh’s former Supreme Court chief justice was forced to leave the country and resign after refusing requests by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior government officials to change a key ruling, according to a memoir published online this week.

Surendra Kumar Sinha, 67, left Bangladesh in October 2017 and resigned as chief justice a month later for “personal reasons,” according to government officials at that time.

The book, Sinha’s first official statement about the events that led to his abrupt resignation, also alleges that military intelligence officers abducted one of his friends to pressure him to resign.

Sinha describes how military officers presented him with a resignation letter that he was supposed to sign at an airport in Singapore last year, and handed him a phone where he was astonished to hear the voice of his friend, businessman and diplomat Aniruddha Roy, who had gone missing 81 days.

“I heard Roy’s voice telling me, ‘Sir, looking at the face of my autistic son please sign the letter in the language of the officer,’” Sinha wrote, describing how he finally gave in to pressure to resign following a months-long standoff with Hasina over a constitutional amendment that he had ruled against.

Unidentified men abducted Roy in front of a bank in Dhaka on Aug. 27, 2017, according to his driver. In November, his wife told reporters that he was back home, but she declined to disclose details about his captivity or exactly when he was released.

The events recounted by Sinha followed an unprecedented incident three months earlier when the president’s military secretary had summoned him to what turned out to be a four-hour meeting with the prime minister, law minister, attorney general, and president.

Using both flattery and threats, the four of them urged him to rule in a pending case in favor of the 16th amendment to the constitution, in a move that would empower lawmakers to dismiss Supreme Court justices.

“The prime minister requested me to somehow give the verdict in favor of the government,” Sinha said in his book.

“When I was unmoved, the prime minister lost her temper. Then abruptly she expressed her dissatisfaction towards me stating that she had all information regarding me,” he said. “Her only object was how to control the Supreme Court for coming to power in the next election.”

‘It is not our job to threaten anybody’

Obaidul Quader, general-secretary of the Awami League, Hasina’s party, described Sinha’s allegations as “fictitious.”

“Everyone knows about the circumstances that led to him becoming a former chief justice. Now he is writing fiction out of envy while being abroad,” Quader told reporters in Dhaka on Thursday.

“Why did he not have the courage to say the things he is claiming now? His claims have no relevance whatsoever and the people of the country have no reason to believe any of it.”

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Tanvir Mazhar Siddiqui, spokesman of the military’s intelligence wing, DGFI, said he was trying to obtain a copy of Sinha’s book.

“However, on behalf of the organization, I can say it clearly that it is not our job to threaten anybody,” he told BenarNews. “DGFI never does it.”

Khondker Mahbub Hossain, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and vice chairman of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said Sinha’s book made it clear that he was forced to resign and deliver verdicts that were favorable to Hasina’s government.

“By doing such thing, the government wanted to give a signal to all the judges of the country that they will have to embrace a same fate if they do anything against the intention of the government,” he told Benar. “It is an ominous sign for the judiciary.”

Sinha’s resignation surprised many in Bangladesh because he was due to retire as chief justice in January 2018. It came just months after the Supreme Court ruled that giving the legislature or executive branch the power to remove justices from the court’s bench would hamper the constitution’s basic structure, which requires equal separation of powers among the three branches of government.

The threat of impeachment proceedings would subject judges to exploitation by politicians, Sinha said in his July 2017 ruling.

The Bangladeshi constitution, which was established on Dec. 16, 1972, provided a parliamentary form of government and conferred power on parliament to amend the constitution through a two-third majority. Since then, according to political observers, amendments have been used to serve the interests of the country’s ruler or the ruling party.

Before leaving Dhaka last year, Sinha told reporters that he was doing so to preserve the integrity of the judiciary, but officials alleged that he had tendered his resignation as he faced corruption and money-laundering charges.

In his book, however, Sinha denied the corruption allegations and rejected government claims that he was ill with cancer.

After traveling from Bangladesh to Australia, Sinha said he went on to Canada, where one of his daughters lives, and then moved to Paterson, New Jersey, a 20-minute bus ride from New York City.

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