Ex-Bangladesh SC Chief Justice SK Sinha may be deported from US after being sentenced to jail term in absentia

Surendra Kumar Sinha, who quit office midway through his term, reportedly earned the wrath of Sheikh Hasina govt after a book penned by him opened a Pandora’s Box

Image credit: Social media (File photo)
Image credit: Social media (File photo)

Prakash Bhandari

Surendra Kumar Sinha, a former Chief Justice of Bangladesh, who was sentenced to 11 years of jail term by a special judge of Dhaka in absentia, is likely to be deported from United States.

Sinha, a Hindu, who is in United States and sought asylum there, was sentenced after the state-run Anti-Corruption Commission framed charges against him in 2018.

The Bangladesh government is likely to confiscate his properties in Dhaka and other places to force him to return to Bangladesh and face the jail term.

Sinha had left Bangladesh in 2017 and is reportedly now living in the United States.

Interestingly, Sinha was considered close to Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League. He was chief justice of the Supreme Court from Jan. 17, 2015, to Nov. 11, 2017. He had left the country while in office and resigned from his post during his temporary stay in Canada. Prior to leaving for Canada, he was living with his son in Australia.

The court ordered him to serve seven years for money laundering and the remaining four of the 11 years for breach of trust.

Bangladesh Law Minister Anisul Haque has said that the verdict against Sinha proves "no one is above law."

Media sources in Dhaka said that the Bangladesh government would take up the issue of the former Chief Justice with the United States government and would urge it not to grant asylum to Sinha, stating that he is a fugitive and has been sentenced a jail term and he should thus be deported to face it in Bangladesh.

In 2018, Sinha had penned a book 'A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy', in which he had claimed that the powerful military intelligence agency DGFI had threatened him to resign from his post and 'forced' him to leave the country in 2017.

He also alleged that the security agencies in Bangladesh often intimidate judges to deliver judgments in favour of the government.

In 2018, Law Minister Anisul Huq had said that Sinha had published the book ‘out of frustration’. "He was at the center of a group that wanted to stage a judicial coup to destabilize the government," he had claimed.

But religious minorities groups and leaders have flayed the latest judgement sentencing Sinha to 11 years in jail.

The Hindus, who are a minority community in Bangladesh, faced the wrath of some fundamentalist groups in Bangladesh who vandalized several places of worship during Durga Puja and were involved in killing half a dozen Hindus.

Hindu organisations opposed the jail term given to Sinha and said the charges that are frivolous were framed against him since the time he opposed Sheikh Hasina government.

Monindra Kumar Nath, joint secretary of the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Parishad, has been quoted as saying: ".... there is no doubt that this verdict against him resulted from his anti-government stance".

As per the verdict given by Special Judge Shaikh Nazmul Alam, Sinha was sentenced to seven years for laundering money and four for breach of trust. However, the court said the punishment will run concurrently.

The court also fined Sinha Tk 45 lakh and asked to confiscate Tk 78 lakh from him in favour of the state.

In the verdict, the judge said, "SK Sinha is the principal beneficiary of the laundered money."

Four accused -- SK Sinha, Shafiuddin, Ranjit and Santri -- have been absconding since the graft case was filed.

During the closing arguments on September 14, the prosecution had told the court that they were able to prove the charges against the accused and sought the highest punishment for them.

A total of 21 prosecution witnesses gave their deposition in the case before the court, said the state lawyer.

The court framed charges against them on August 13 last year.

The case against Sinha and others was booked after Sinha was forced to quit his job in 2017 on charges of embezzlement. Facing arrest, Sinha, who was Bangladesh’s first Hindu Chief Justice, was forced to leave Bangladesh and went to Australia to live with his son there.

Sinha earned the wrath of the Sheikh Hasina government after his autobiography opened a Pandora’s Box and he was forced to resign following intimidation and threat

The trouble for Sinha started after his book was released in which he described the backdrop of his resignation and gave insights into Bangladesh’s numerous social and political issues, including its evolving state of governance.

Further troubles began soon after he gave a verdict in 2017 through which the Supreme Court annulled the 16th amendment to the Constitution which empowered Parliament to impeach SC judges for misconduct or incapacity. As it upheld the independence of the judiciary, it miffed Sheikh Hasina, who accused Justice Sinha of “humiliating” the country. He was accused of corruption and misuse of power, allegations that he denied.

Sinha has delivered many important judgments, including one on the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founder, and the validity of the 5th, 7th, and 13th amendments to Bangladesh’s Constitution.

Sinha was born in Moulvi Bazar district in northeast Bangladesh where he grew up in a family of six siblings — five brothers and a sister. His father was a dedicated teacher and scholar of the Hindu religion.

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