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Judges vs Bangladesh: Top judge extends leave to 10 November, colleagues allege govt pressure

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 11 October 2017, 17:15 IST

The intrigue around why Bangladesh’s Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha decided to go on a leave continues. Sinha, who had earlier sought a month’s leave, apparently on health grounds, seems to have extended it to 10 November.

A fresh letter has been sent to the President informing him of Sinha’s plan to leave for Australia to visit his daughter and receive treatment, according to a report in the Daily Star.

The letter which has the signature of Md Zakir Hossain, Registrar of the Appellate Division of the SC, says that Sinha may leave Dhaka on or before Friday.

Another report in the Dhaka Tribune says that the chief justice mentioned a physical ailment and mental depression as reasons for his decision to travel to Australia.

This development comes at a point when the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) is still protesting against what they call – the Chief Justice’s confinement by the Sheikh Hasina government. Dhaka has been rife with speculations that the government has forced Sinha to go on leave. The assertion gained credence when the reports of Sinha, deciding to go on a one month leave started making the rounds.

The letter, which was released to the media by the Law Minister and not by the Chief Justice’s office, made some wonder if it was the handiwork of the Hasina government. The Bangladesh government has been at loggerheads with the Supreme Court under Sinha.

Following the release of the letter, SCBA president Zainul Abedin, who also happens to be the vice president of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (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.

As national elections draw closer, all kinds of bizarre reports are doing the rounds including ones that speak of plot, allegedly underway, to unseat Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL).

One such report which came out in late September mentioned how Sinha, during his visit to Tokyo, before he arrived in Dhaka, had spoken to the Bangladeshi expatriate community about the need of a course correction of the Bangladeshi democracy. According to him, it had several lacunae and he was determined to rectify them.

The report also talked about Bangladeshi intelligence receiving information that a group of top lawyers are going to move Supreme Court to declare the election of 154 MPs, elected uncontested in 2014, as illegal. If moved, this would lead to a dissolution of the Parliament, paving way for the army. And that Sinha was in touch with several top army officers.

Opposition BNP had boycotted the 2014 elections.

While the veracity of such reports cannot be verified, the drama around Sinha’s leave began as soon as he returned from Tokyo. Sinha has been out of action most of September as well, because of a two-week long trip – first to Canada and then Japan.

The tussle between Hasina’s government and the judiciary came to a boil over the latter’s view on 16th amendment which took away Parliament’s power to impeach judges. Unhappy over the court’s order scrapping it, there have been allegations since, that the government is trying to arm twist the apex judiciary.

Also read: Bangladesh's top judge 'forced to go on leave' over remarks on the 16th amendment

The BNP, meanwhile, had welcomed Sinha’s decision which threw 16th Amendment out, as a “ray of hope for Bangladesh’s besieged democracy”, as a statement put it.

A July judgment by Justice Sinha had scrapped the 16th amendment. This had led several from the Awami League suggesting that the judgment was a conspiracy.

While PM Hasina had asked the party cadre to hit the streets against the judgment, Law Minister Haq had clearly said that the judgment 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. But, 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 judgment.

Sinha had made comments 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.

First published: 11 October 2017, 17:15 IST