2 ministers face contempt rule
The Supreme Court yesterday issued a contempt rule on two ministers for their bitter criticisms of Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha in relation to the hearing of an appeal of war crimes convict Mir Quasem Ali.
The apex court has ordered Food Minister Qamrul Islam and Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq to explain by March 14 their “derogatory and highly contemptuous statements” and then appear before it in person on March 15.
This is the first time that the SC has summoned two ministers together over possible contempt of court charges, said Attorney General Mahbubey Alam.
A nine-member full bench of the Appellate Division headed by the chief justice gave the order in a suo moto (of its own) move, before the delivery of the appeal verdict in the war crimes case against Quasem, a Jamaat leader.
In the order, the court said the statements of the two ministers on March 5 against the chief justice were “flagrant interference with the administration of justice, questioning the independence of judiciary”.
Such comments have “undermined the dignity, prestige and authority and impartiality of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and the office of the chief justice in the estimation of the public at large,” the apex court said.
Before passing the order, the chief justice told the attorney general that the judges were stunned at the “indecent and derogatory statements” by the two ministers.
Any written or verbal comments or other acts lowering the authority of the court or interfering with judicial proceedings or administration of justice are contempt of court. If found guilty, an accused may face fine or jail sentence or both. The fine amount and the jail term are fixed by the court as it deems fit.
Qamrul and Mozammel criticised the chief justice for two days in a row, after the country's top judge expressed dissatisfaction over the “poor performance” of prosecutors and investigators in dealing with war crimes cases.
'A CLEAR SUGGESTION'
On Saturday, Qamrul told a discussion, “I am aggrieved by his [the CJ's] comments in the open court.”
He also alleged the comments of the chief justice had similarities with those by some political parties opposing the war crimes trial.
“He [Quasem] is now in the condemned cell, but his money is well active outside the prison....
“I have a clear suggestion ... Let there be a bench of the Appellate Division, keeping the present chief justice out of the bench, which he now leads, and then let there be a fresh hearing of the appeal. This is my demand in clear terms. There is no other option,” he said, and “humbly requested” the chief justice to accept his proposal.
Qamrul also demanded that the attorney general be excluded from the hearing of Quasem's case.
Speaking at the discussion, Mozammel said if the chief justice had indeed made such comments in the open court, he must as well know the remedy.
Then on Sunday, Qamrul made similar criticisms of the CJ, saying Justice Sinha was openly speaking in the language used by the BNP, the Jamaat-e-Islami and their lobbyists in their efforts to undermine the war crimes trial. Going even further, Mozammel said the chief justice should not be delivering the verdict in Quasem's case at all.
In her reaction, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Monday that her government was “embarrassed” by the ministers' remarks. She also made it clear that those were not government's statements, but personal views of the two.
QAMRUL TO SEEK TIME
After the SC ruling, Mahbubey Alam told reporters that some individuals and organisations were making statements in a way as if the war crimes trial was taking place because of them, but this notion was not right.
The trial of the 1971 perpetrators is being held as part of the political decision of the government, he said.
Talking to journalists about the SC rule and summons, Qamrul said he would seek some time from the SC through lawyers to respond and to appear before the court. The minister was supposed to leave the country for Malaysia yesterday.
He said he was respectful to the court and would act according to its order.
Asked about his comments about the chief justice, he said he “made the statement as a freedom fighter, not as a minister”.
A private TV channel quoted Mozammel as saying: “I heard it [the summons]. Insha Allah [God willing] we will place our submission and appear [before the court].”
Meanwhile, Law Minister Anisul Huq urged all not to make any comment on sub judice matters.
“The Supreme Court is an institution and the judges are part of it. It's not right to comment on a case pending with the judges,” Anisul told reporters at his office yesterday.
But he declined to say anything about the contempt of court rule against the two ministers.
In its verdict in the contempt of court case against the daily Janakantha last year, the SC observed that publication or other acts scandalising or lowering the authority of the court or interfering with judicial proceedings or administration of justice are contempt of court.
It said prejudice to or interference with the due course of any judicial proceeding, interference or obstruction of the administration of justice in any other manner, interference with the court's officers, parties and witnesses, abuse of process of the court and disobedience of an order of the court are among the categories of contempt of court.
In August last year, the apex court sentenced the editor and publisher of the Bangla daily and its executive editor to confinement in the courtroom for over three hours for publishing an article relating to war crimes convict Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (who was executed on November 22). It also fined the two journalists Tk 10,000 each.
Earlier in August 2010, the SC had sentenced Mahmudur Rahman, acting editor of the daily Amar Desh, to six months in jail for running an article headlined “Chamber bench means stay order in favour of the government”.
Khurshid Alam Khan, an SC lawyer and editor of Dhaka Law Reports, told The Daily Star that it is the discretionary jurisdiction of the apex court to decide the punishment for committing contempt of court under Article 108 of the constitution.