Renowned journalist Abdul Gaffar Choudhury's recent article on the government’s decision to grant certificates to 12 expatriate freedom fighters really deserves appreciation.
The recognition of these 12 people will pave the way for recognition of other individuals who had made special contribution to drumming up world opinion during the War of Liberation. He also demanded posthumous recognition of all those who have already passed away.Gaffar Bhai is a revered personality to the believers in the spirit of the War of Bangladesh Liberation. After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, he launched a newspaper 'Banglar Dak' published from London. I was lucky to have worked with him on behalf of the newspaper which was a mouthpiece protesting against the assassination.
In his writing, Gaffar Bhai mentioned the punishment of Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque in a case involving contempt of court.
The background of the contempt of court case and relevant facts should be clarified. People have the right to know the incident that led to the case.
Several years have elapsed and the incident has sunk into oblivion. The new generation is completely in dark about it. I would like to clarify the context and my role in it.
It was 2015. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court was hearing the appeals of war crimes convicts who were sentenced by the International Crimes Tribunal since 2013.
Five judges of the Appellate Division, headed by the then Hon'ble Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain, were hearing the appeals. I was one of those five judges.The situation took a dramatic turn after Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain’s retirement. On January 17, 2015, Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha was sworn in as the Chief Justice at Bangabhaban. Taking charge in the evening, he first axed me from the panel hearing the appeals of the war criminals. He transferred me to the second bench of the Appellate Division.
Meanwhile, the appeals of war criminals Abdul Quader Mollah, Sayedee and Kamaruzzaman were heard and judgments finalised. I had the opportunity to serve as one of the three judges dealing with the cases.
However, I wanted to know the reason behind my transfer to the court-2. In reply, Chief Justice Sinha bluntly said that war criminal Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s family members and Barrister Moudud Ahmed did not want me to hear their appeals. Justice Sinha said they held his “hands and feet” and requested him to keep me out of hearing of the appeal filed by Salauddin Quader Chowdhury challenging the death sentence he got for his war crimes and appeal involving eviction of Moudud Ahmed from Gulshan house.
Shocked at Chief Justice Sinha's words, I asked him how he could meet the family members of a litigant whose case was pending with his court. It is a serious crime for a judge to meet the family members of an accused. Chief Justice Sinha could not respond. But the conversation was recorded and widely publicised by someone.
There were doubts in people’s minds that Chief Justice Sinha made a deal with SQ Chowdhury's family. If that was not the case, why did he meet a convicted war criminal’s family members?
Hearing war criminal Kamaruzzaman's appeal in September 2014, Justice Sinha admitted in the courtroom that he was a member of the “Peace Committee” during the War of Liberation and used to help Pakistani soldiers. The following day, Justice Sinha's statement was widely covered by the media, especially Dhaka Tribune.
Before SQ Chowdhury's verdict, Chief Justice Sinha made all the preparations to go to London with a businessman. It created an impression that he was going to London to finalise underhand dealings with the family of the convicted war criminal.
Janakantha's executive editor and Ekushey Padak winner Swadesh Roy wrote an article on Sinha’s conversation with the family members of SQ Chowdhury and substantiated the claim by leaked audio clip. Published on July 16, 2015, the article not only created tremor in the country but also invited enmity of Chief Justice Sinha.
On August 3, 2015, Chief Justice Sinha issued a contempt of court rule against Swadesh Roy and Janakantha editor Atiqullah Khan Masud. Justice Sinha wanted to send them to jail for a few years, but after observing the situation, he finally opted for a lenient sentence.
During the hearing of the contempt of court case, Swadesh Roy played the record of conversation forcing Chief Justice Sinha to admit in public court that he had met SQ Chowdhury's family members.
Two months prior to my retirement, I was barred from discharging judicial functions and writing judgments. The reason is that I decided to take the side of Swadesh Roy and testify on his behalf. Chief Justice Sinha illegally locked my office so that I could not write the verdicts. He also blocked my pension for a few months. Later, I received the pension with the help of the law minister.
I informed the Hon’ble President of the incident in writing. During the hearing of appeal of war criminal Mir Quasem Ali a few months later in February/March, 2016, he rebuked the prosecution and made negative remarks purporting to send the case to the International Crimes Tribunal for retrial.
During the hearing, Chief Justice Sinha frequently said the prosecution failed to prove the case meaning Mir Quasem could not be convicted. At the same time, he told an important person that he would send the case to the tribunal for reconsideration due to the failure of the prosecution. People’s suspicions further intensified as Chief Justice Sinha unnecessarily adjourned the appeal hearing twice ignoring opinions of other judges of the Appellate Division.
If the Chief Justice passes any order unilaterally, it becomes difficult for the other judges to address it.
On March 5, 2016, a roundtable meeting was organised at the initiative of journalist Shahriar Kabir and Prof Muntassir Mamoon to discuss the Sinha and Mir Quasem issue. The pro-liberation scholars and people were worried about Chief Justice Sinha's favouritism towards war criminal Mir Quasem Ali. It was rumoured that Sinha had reached an agreement.
Two ministers -- Advocate AKM Mozammel Haque and Advocate Qamrul Islam-- were invited to address the meeting. As a retired judge, I was an invitee. Since I was in London, my written statement was read out. At the meeting, the two ministers and others demanded a re-hearing of Mir Quasem Ali's appeal with the judges other than Sinha.
Shortly after that, Chief Justice Sinha threatened to topple the government. In the open court, he issued the threat through the Attorney General, saying the Supreme Court of Pakistan had sacked their Prime Minister and the Bangladesh government should keep it in mind. In other words, he warned the government with the message that he can do the same to bring down the government.
Following the roundtable, Chief Justice Sinha issued contempt of court rules against the two ministers, kept the duo standing on the dock for three days and subsequently fined them. The verdict sparked protests among pro-liberation people.
Had there been not a roundtable and had the two ministers not made bold statements, Sinha would have sent his case to the tribunal for retrial. Everybody knew it.
By the time, self-proclaimed member of the Peace Committee SK Sinha was conspiring to dethrone the elected government of Bangladesh in line with Pakistan.
Sinha tried to exploit the situation after the High Court rejected a writ petition challenging election of 154 people unopposed in the 2014 parliamentary polls. He moved to invalidate the whole election process, putting the government in uncertainty. His plan was to overthrow the government by declaring election of 154 people and the entire government illegal.
When this information came to the notice of our intelligence officials, they held thorough investigation and unearthed complicity of Sinha in the conspiracy. They also found evidence that Sinha was expediting the plan.
However, Sinha stumbled over extensive coverage of statements of the two ministers sparking anti-Sinha sentiment in the country. He understood well that toppling the government will be impossible. As such, he adopted a “go-slow” policy.
As evidence of corruption against Chief Justice Sinha came to light, four other judges of the Appellate Division were unwilling to discharge judicial function with him. Chief Justice Sinha was forced to resign, finding no way out.
With the resignation, the plan to overthrow the democratic government was thwarted. Sinha’s plan was regarded as a “judicial coup.”
The two ministers not only ensured the proper punishment to Mir Quasem Ali but also protected the democratic government and the country from undue interference. For this, they were punished with contempt of court charges; but such punishment was of glory, of achievement. They had to accept the punishment with the great vow of defending the country, which we should always remember the above two ministers with gratitude.
The main reason for controversy about Justice Sinha's integrity is his past history of corruption. During the caretaker regime, in 2007, President Dr Iajuddin Ahmed summoned three judges, including Justice Sinha, to Bangabhaban and asked them to resign. He cited evidence of corruption against the trio. One of the judges resigned immediately.
Justice Sinha took two days. He, however, managed to escape with the help of one of the most influential jurists of the time and one of the key players of the caretaker regime. Later, his corruption was talk of the country. A graft case is now pending against him. He allegedly embezzled Tk 4 crore. It is a much-reported case against him.
Taking the risk of contempt of court and imprisonment, the two ministers really took a bold step to ensure punishment to war criminal Mir Quasem Ali. Had two ministers, journalist Shahriar Kabir, historian Prof Muntassir Mamoon not expressed concern in the roundtable, the country would have seen a different situation.
Chief Justice Sinha was sure to try to send Mir Quasem’s case to the tribunal for retrial. The proof of Sinha receiving large sums of dollars from the war criminal’s brother in Canada has spread around.
Justice Sinha did not return home after learning that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was investigating graft allegations against him. The two ministers and others who played a vital role in stopping Chief Justice Sinha's ominous and destructive agenda deserve applause.
Abdul Hannan Khan, chief coordinator of investigation agency of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), said he visited Moulvibazar district for professional reason and learnt that Sinha was apprehended by freedom fighters for his anti-liberation role. After the liberation of the country, Sinha was confined to the camp of Commander Mohsin who later became a minister.
Later, leaders from the Manipuri community (Sinha's community) came to Mohsin and requested for release of Sinha being only educated person of the community. Mohsin released Sinha at the behest of the Manipuri community. This story is meant for the people who forgot it. The same is obviously a hotcake for the new generation.
(The writer is a retired Justice of the Appellate Division of Supreme Court, Bangladesh)
Translated by Firoz Al Mamun