Bangladesh's top judge 'forced to go on leave' over remarks on the 16th amendment
The rift between the Bangladesh government in Dhaka and country’s apex court is out in the open again.
In an unusual development, Bangladesh’s Chief Justice Surender Kumar Sinha has gone on a month-long leave on health grounds. The Supreme Court Bar Association alleges that Chief Justice Sinha has been forced to take leave by the Sheikh Hasina regime. The Bangladeshi Prime Minister, meanwhile, is still not back in Dhaka after over two weeks of travel, starting with the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
With elections due in 2018, Bangladesh, which is reeling under multiple crises, including the latest inflow of over half a million refugees from neighbouring Myanmar, is poised for an eventful year leading to the polls.
For now, Bangladeshi President Md Abdul Hamid has appointed Md Abdul Wahhab Miah as the acting chief justice. Law and parliamentary affairs minister of Bangladesh Anisul Huq had earlier announced that Sinha’s decision to go on leave.
The development comes in the background of the tussle between Hasina’s government and judiciary over the latter’s view on 16th amendment. Unhappy over the court’s order scrapping it, there have been allegations that the government is trying to arm twist the apex judiciary.
The Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), meanwhile, welcomed Sinha’s decision which threw 16th Amendment out, as a “ray of hope for Bangladesh’s besieged democracy, as a statement put it.
Sinha has been out of action most of September as well, because of two-week long trip, first to Canada and then Japan. The regular court was anyway shut for most of September and convened on Tuesday after a month-long break.
Supreme Court Bar Association president Zainul Abedin, who also happens to be a vice president of the BNP, launched an attack on the government over Sinha’s absence.
“The SCBA thinks that a huge pressure was mounted on the chief justice so that he goes on leave for a month,” Abedin reportedly said. “You [newsmen] know, nation knows, and the people around the world know that after a verdict, a certain political party and the government were putting pressure exploiting various means,” the senior lawyer said while adding, “We think that the chief justice was sent on leave as a part of that pressure. He did not go on leave [willingly]. He was forced to do so.”
The 16th amendment verdict
A July judgement by Justice Sinha had scrapped the 16th amendment which gave Parliament the right to impeach top judges. This had led several from the Awami League suggesting that the judgement was a conspiracy.
While PM Hasina had asked the party cadre to hit the streets against the judgement, Law Minister Haq had clearly said the judgement was not acceptable to the government.
“When everyone is accountable to parliament, there is no reason why judges should be an exception to this,” former Chief Justice and Chairman of the Law Commission Khairul Haque had reportedly said.
Arguing that judges too need to be policed, the AL leadership was of the view that the scrapping the 16th amendment would give the judges a free run.
Meanwhile, it was not just the scrapping of the 16th amendment which irked the AL leadership. They were also upset over some of the remarks made by Sinha in his judgement.
Sinha commented on democracy, politics, martial law, the Election Commission, good governance, corruption and independence of the judiciary. He also made remarks like “no nation, no country is made of, or by one person,” which has been taken as a veiled reference to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, beside reportedly speaking of how MPs are immature.
But this battle between the Awami League and the Supreme Court, meanwhile, had given BNP another reason to corner the government. Ecstatic over the verdict, the BNP hailed it as 'Magna Carta'. BNP has been critical of the 16th amendment as a ploy by AL to control the judiciary.