Former Chief Justice of Bangladesh Surendra Kumar Sinha, who resigned last year amid intense pressure over a verdict nullifying a constitutional amendment, accuses the country’s notorious military spy agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), of orchestrating his forced resignation. In a new book, released on 16 September, he also lays out a detailed and explosive account of the events that led to his resignation.
A brief introduction to the book titled A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy, written in first person, states, “Finally, in the face of intimidation and threats to my family and friends by the country’s military intelligence agency called the Directorate General of the Defence Forces Intelligence (DGDFI) (sic), I submitted resignation from abroad.”
In total, there are 63 mentions of DGFI in the book.
The tension between the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led government and Sinha, who was Bangladesh’s first-ever Chief Justice to come from a religious or ethnic minority group, was triggered by a verdict nullifying a constitutional amendment that would have given the Parliament power to impeach judges. And as it turned out, Sinha became the first Chief Justice to resign. The book is full of explosive materials incriminating the military intelligence and even the prime minister herself. According to excerpts seen by this correspondent, it details how the DGFI interfered in judicial affairs by, for example, “exerting pressure on the judges for delivery of a judgment in favour of the government.”
Even when he requested the prime minister to rein in her DGFI officers, he writes, she remained silent.
He alleges that after he fell out with the government, he was basically confined to his residence, with lawyers and peers denied entry to him and plainclothes DGFI men taking control of the entire Supreme Court premise. Meanwhile, a series of charges including graft and money-laundering against him appeared in the staunchly pro-government newspaper Janakantha. Sinha describes a meeting with the DGFI chief, who told him that there were some “allegations” against him.
“What! You’re exceeding your limits. Who gave you the power to talk like this?” he shouted at the DGFI chief in response, according to the book. But the latter insisted that he wasn’t saying this without any proof.
In October, the government announced that Sinha would go on leave due to health issues, while the law minister said that the Chief Justice had cancer. On his way to Australia, Sinha, however, contradicted the statement, telling reporters that he was not unwell at all, and that he would return soon. In a written statement given to reporters, he also challenged the legality of the government’s decision to appoint another appellate court judge as “an interim Chief Justice” during his absence.
In a rejoinder circulated to the press after Sinha left the country, the Supreme Court’s registrar-general trashed his statement, saying that the five other judges of the appellate division refused to sit alongside him because he failed to give a proper explanation when they confronted him about serious charges against him — the list of which had been handed over to them by President of Bangladesh Abdul Hamid. The unprecedented statement of the Supreme Court contradicted Sinha’s statement, in which he tried to clarify that he himself sought the leave and the president approved it accordingly.
In his book, Sinha also alleges that his relative, businessman Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury was picked up by the DGFI to put pressure on him to resign, although it was reported back then in the local media that he had been abducted by his business partners. While the allegation remaining unproven, Chowdhury returned home six days after Sinha had resigned on 18 October.
Regardless of his claims, the circumstances surrounding his resignation were highly dramatic. Less than a year after the ruling Awami League came to power in a highly controversial election — that was boycotted by Opposition parties — in 2014, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which would have given the Parliament power to impeach Supreme Court justices, was passed in Parliament. The high court struck down the amendment. While the party appealed to the Supreme Court, an appellate division bench headed by Sinha unanimously rejected the appeal upholding the high court’s decision.
As soon as the full text of the verdict was made public in August 2018, several ruling party leaders launched a blistering attack against Sinha and called for his resignation, taking issue with a particular sentence of the observation of the judgment: “No nation — no country is made of or by one person. If we want to truly live up to the dream of Sonar Bangla as advocated by our Father of the Nation, we must keep ourselves free from this suicidal ambition and addiction of ‘I’ness.” By ‘one person’, the ruling party leaders alleged, Sinha took a dig at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding father — a charge he denied.
The tension intensified after Sinha, while hearing another longstanding contentious case regarding the separation of the executive branch and judiciary, referred to the removal of Pakistan’s then prime minister Nawaz Sharif by its Supreme Court — a remark that drew sharp criticism from Hasina.
Brigadier General Tanveer Mazhar Siddique, the chief of DGFI’s Public Relations and Media Communications, denied these allegations in a short interview with Bangla Tribune. “We haven’t yet read the book,” he is quoted as saying, “We are trying to collect it. It’s better we comment after we read the book. However, I can say on behalf of the agency that threatening or intimidating someone is not our job. We never do this. Nevertheless, after reading the book, more can be said as to what he said in what context and about whom.”
“Having lost his power, Justice SK Sinha wrote a book full of fiction. When someone is not in power, they feel grievances. They say stuff out of such grievances,” Obaidul Quader, a top minister and secretary of Awami League, told reporters. “We do not think that it’s necessary to respond to stuff written from abroad.”
Meanwhile, senior minister and secretary of the Awami League Obaidul Quader told reporters, “Having lost his power, Sinha wrote a book full of fiction. When someone is not in power, they feel grievances. They say stuff out of such grievances…. We do not think that it’s necessary to respond to stuff written from abroad.”
Sinha never returned to Bangladesh after he going to Australia. Efforts to contact him were unsuccessful.