Updated: November 10, 2021 11:21 AM GMT
Surendra Kumar Sinha came under attack when he criticized Bangladesh's political culture. (Photo: YouTube)
A court in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka has sentenced a former chief justice to 11 years in jail on charges of corruption and breach of trust in a case that minority leaders and a church official termed “politically motivated.”
Judge Sheikh Nazmul Alam of Dhaka Special Judge's Court sentenced Surendra Kumar Sinha (popularly known as S.K. Sinha) to seven years for money laundering and four years for breach of trust on Nov. 9.
Sinha, 70, was tried in absentia after the state-run Anti-Corruption Commission framed charges against him in 2018. He and 10 others were charged with laundering money equivalent to US$475,000 by colluding with officials of Farmers Bank, a private bank, using fake documents.
Eight others were handed various prison terms but two were acquitted.
A Hindu from the ethnic Manipuri community, Sinha served as the chief justice of Bangladesh for two years until he left the country in 2017. He currently lives in the United States.
Law Minister Anisul Haque told reporters that the verdict against Sinha proves “no one is above the law.”
There is no doubt that this verdict against him resulted from his anti-government stance
“There should always be transparency and accountability. I think it is a matter of learning from this verdict. But I will say that this is not a happy day for the judiciary. But it is also true that if he does wrong, he will be judged,” the minister said.
Critics, however, described the case and the verdict as politically motivated.
Monindra Kumar Nath, joint secretary of the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Parishad (Council), a major religious minority forum, pointed out that the case was fast-tracked while many cases involving corruption of influential people remain in limbo.
“There is no reason to question whether he has embezzled money or not. The reality is he has not been able to accept many decisions of the present government and there is no doubt that this verdict against him resulted from his anti-government stance,” Nath, a Hindu, told UCA News.
Many criminals who committed heinous crimes and corruption continue to roam around freely, he said.
“With this verdict, the government gave a warning to the judges that no one should go against the government in the future. Even if the government does wrong, they should be on the government side,” Nath added.
Father Albert Rozario, a Supreme Court lawyer and a member of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, also believes the case against the former chief justice is political motivated.
“The post of chief justice is a political position and Sinha was appointed on his merits by the government. But when he could not accept the unjust acts of the government, he was fired for speaking out against various decisions of the government,” Father Rozario told UCA News.
The priest said Sinha was unable to defend the case from outside the country but insisted that the ruling would not last if he returned to challenge it.
“Sinha came under fire because he stood up for democracy when it continued to shrink. He wanted to have constitutional amendments so that the country’s manipulated political system and culture could change,” Father Rozario said.
He came under verbal attacks and street protests from ruling party ministers, leaders and supporters for striking down the amendment
For years, S.K. Sinha was known as an ally of the ruling Awami League. However, he faced off with the government over separation and independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative bodies.
The disagreement reached its crux on July 3, 2017, when a Supreme Court bench headed by Sinha declared “illegal and unconstitutional” a constitutional amendment of 2014 that restored parliament’s authority to impeach and remove Supreme Court judges for misconduct and incapacity.
He came under verbal attacks and street protests from ruling party ministers, leaders and supporters for striking down the amendment.
The vitriol escalated on Aug. 1 that year when the full text of the verdict was published. In his observations, Sinha termed Bangladesh’s parliamentary democracy “dysfunctional” and described parliamentarians as “immature.”
Under intense pressure, Sinha left Bangladesh for Australia on Oct. 13, 2017, on month-long medical leave. He tendered his resignation from Canada on Nov. 11. He later settled in the US.
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