An autobiography written by former Bangladesh Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha and released last Sunday has stirred controversy in the country.
Sinha wrote that he was forced to resign and left the country under threat from the ruling Sheikh Hasina government. In the 47 years since Bangladesh’s independence, during which time 21 judges served as chief justice, Sinha became the first to step down before the end of his term.
His autobiography A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy, written in a no holds barred approach, put to rest speculation that followed his resignation. Sinha released the book in the United States, where he now lives in exile.
Adding fuel to the fire, Sinha spoke to BBC Bangla two days after the book’s release and claimed he had been put under “complete house arrest.”
“I couldn’t even breathe during that time,” he said.
Sinha alleged he was visited by the head of Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), who asked when he planned to leave the country. “I told him that I would not leave the country and I wanted to have a discussion with the Prime Minister [Sheikh Hasina]. He replied that the prime minister was not interested to talk to me,” Sinha said.
According to Sinha, four of his colleagues from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court told him they would not sit on the same bench as him since the president had informed them of “serious allegations” against him. “I was dropped out of the blue,” Sinha said.
“I met the president just a few days ago during our Janmasthami Program, and we had chatted informally. If there were any serious allegations against me, he could have told me directly at that time. But instead of telling me directly, he had told my subordinate judges to not to sit with me,” Sinha said.
“An intelligence agency had put pressure on to those judges and created this situation.”
Sinha was appointed the 21st Chief Justice of Bangladesh on Jan. 12, 2015. He was the country’s first chief justice from the minority Hindu community.
On several occasions within a short period, Sinha said publicly that the executive and judiciary were in conflict. The conflict escalated in May 2016, when Bangladesh’s Supreme Court declared illegal the 16th amendment to the country’s constitution. The amendment gave Parliament the power to remove judges if allegations of incapability or misconduct against them were proved.
Apart from the verdict, Sinha’s observations while pronouncing the judgment appeared to have angered the ruling Awami League more. At one point in the judgment, Justice Sinha said: “One person alone can’t be responsible for building a nation.”
Awami League leaders interpreted Sinha’s observation to mean that credit for Bangladesh’s independence did not belong to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Rahman, who served as the first President of Bangladesh, is referred to as the country’s founding father.
Awami League leaders and activists accused Sinha of insulting Rahman. Soon after, Sinha left for Australia for health reasons.
Before leaving the country on Oct. 14, however, Sinha said he was “not sick, but embarrassed” about how the leaders misinterpreted his observations to Premier Hasina, earning him her criticism. He also warned against government “interference” in the Supreme Court, saying it “will not do any good” to the country.
Immediately after Sinha left, five judges of the Appellate Division announced their unwillingness to continue working with him due to “11 gross allegations including money laundering, financial scam, corruption and moral degradation against him.”
On Nov. 10, Sinha tendered his resignation by mail from Australia.
‘Sigh of a loser’
Refuting Sinha’s allegations, Awami League leaders said Sinha wrote those “out of frustration” and they added his claims “have no logic.”
“He [Sinha] can write a fiction from abroad but it doesn’t really matter,” Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said on Thursday. “We all are aware of the context in which Sinha resigned from his post. He has become a former [chief justice]. Heart aches when you are out of power,” Quader said.
Quader said if Sinha was speaking the truth, he should have made the claims when he was chief justice. “Why didn’t he go public and speak the truth?” he asked.
He added that the timing of the book’s release was suspicious in light of the approaching general election. “Why now? It could have been published months later,” Quader said.
Law Minister Anisul Haq raised similar questions about the “hasty timing” of the book’s publication. “The people of this country are not fools. They understand why this book is published now,” he said, adding that the book was the “sigh of a loser.”
Meanwhile, senior leaders from Awami League’s arch-rival the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said Sinha’s book had exposed the fact that Bangladesh’s judiciary now has no freedom.
“The contents of his book went viral on Facebook and other social media platforms. He wrote many things in his book which manifested that the judiciary is not independent,” BNP’s standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan said.