ADVOCATE Sigma Huda, a lawyer of international repute and a renowned human rights activist, appointed the UN Special Rapporteur for Trafficking in Persons in 2004, has been accused by the Anti-Corruption Commission of abetting her husband in five extortion cases and a sixth case where the couple was accused of illegally acquiring wealth disproportionate to their income.
Her husband, Barrister Nazmul Huda, a minister in the past government was arrested after the formation of the present caretaker government and is facing trial in several cases. On July 5, 2007, Sigma Huda surrendered of her own will to the Special Court of the Anti-Corruption Commission in order to be tried by the justice system, rather than abscond.
1. On March 21, 2007, the Dhanmondi Police Station filed a special case against Sigma Huda for allegedly abetting extortion. On July 5, 2007, charges were framed against her in the Special Court set up by the Anti-Corruption Commission, following which she was taken into custody to be tried by the court. On August 27, 2007, the court delivered its verdict and convicted Sigma Huda for aiding and abetting extortion, sentencing her to three years' simple imprisonment.
Subsequent to the conviction, Sigma Huda's lawyers filed an appeal before the High Court and submitted a bail petition. On December 13, 2007, a High Court division bench granted Sigma Huda bail. Subsequently, on March 7, the Supreme Court under the then chief justice, rejected Sigma Huda's bail in a landmark judgement, stating that appellants convicted in graft cases under the Emergency Power Rules would not be granted bail pending appeal with the High Court unless the appellant meets stated criteria, thereby leaving provision for Mrs. Huda's lawyers to seek review. It may be noted here that Mrs. Huda meets all criteria. On June 3, Sigma Huda was finally granted three months' bail by the High Court. The government appealed to the Appellate Division for cancellation of the bail. The appeal was dismissed by the Appellate Division on June 19.
2. On December 9, 2007, charges were framed against Mrs. Sigma Huda and her husband, in the second case to be tried against them in the Special Courts set up by the Anti-Corruption Commission and on April 3, the court delivered its verdict, whereby it acquitted Sigma Huda of illegally acquiring wealth disproportionate to her income or aiding her husband to do so.
3. The third case to be tried against Sigma Huda, an extortion case, was heard in the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court. Sigma Huda was accused of abetting her husband in extorting a Maruti Suzuki car. No witness gave evidence against Sigma Huda or indicated her involvement in the case. On June 12, the court delivered its verdict in Mrs. Huda's favour, finding her innocent and acquitting her.
Mrs. Huda has been accused in three other cases for aiding and abetting extortion, but the High Court has granted bail and stayed proceedings against her till disposal of all three cases.
Therefore, following the bail granted to her by the High Court on June 3 for the case she was convicted in, and the acquittal on the last remaining case on June 12, there were no barriers to her release. However, from the June 12-18, without providing any valid reasons, the jail authorities wrongfully detained her. From the day she was acquitted, they have been stalling her release.
June 12, being a Thursday, we were told the relevant papers had not yet been sent to court. The next two days, i.e. Friday and Saturday, was a weekend. On Sunday, we were informed by the jail authorities that they had yet to receive the bail bonds and relevant papers. On Monday, June 16 we found that all necessary papers had already been received and there was no reasons for not releasing Sigma Huda. In the evening when we were finally able to contact the DIG Prison, he informed that he was outside but would see to it that she would be released on his return. Later we were told that since it had become very late, she would be released the next day. This excuse was given even though there have been many instances of prisoners being released at very late hours.
Strangely, the next day, the 17th, the papers were sent to the High Court to verify that the court had actually given bail, despite the fact that the bail bond and relevant papers were examined by relevant authorities, and officially sent to the jail. On getting a positive reply from the court regarding Sigma Huda's bail, they used delaying tactics by sending the papers for verification to the magistrate's court, where again they were given the same positive response regarding her release.
The DIG Prison over telephone then informed us that he personally needed verification from the concerned magistrate. The next day on June 18, after having no further excuse to delay her release, the prison authorities sent the deputy jailor to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to get the chamber judge to review the decision which was not entertained. After 2.30 pm, the deputy jailor was informed by the office of the chief justice that the matter would be heard by the full bench of the Appellate Court the next day, June 19.
Finally, on the evening of June 18, at around 4 pm, we came to know that Sigma Huda has been charged and shown arrested in another new extortion case, where she is a co-accused, with her husband, of allegedly taking Tk 600,000 bribe, which is said to have been deposited in an account that has already been investigated and frozen by the Anti-Corruption Commission over one year ago, prior to the two trials conducted against the couple by the Special Courts. This case was hurriedly placed before the court and within an hour warrant was issued. This was done just as the family of Sigma Huda along with her lawyers were preparing a contempt petition against the jail authorities for violation of court order regarding her release. The full bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on Thursday, June 19 upheld the High Court order in favour of Sigma Huda's bail.
It is therefore obvious that this new case has been filed with malafide intentions of harassing her and in order to keep her in jail in spite of bail upheld up to Appellate Division, possibly because of political affiliation of her husband, even though as a human rights activist and lawyer she has always taken an independent position. It may be mentioned that at present she is the only spouse as a co-accused still in jail. All others have been released.
Sigma Huda's health condition continues to be of serious concern. Apart from all the previous ailments, where proper and full investigations have not been done as prescribed by the BSMMU doctors under whom she has been admitted, her backbone disease, her unstable angina, life threatening rhythm disturbance of her heart, other heart ailments, and severely fluctuating diabetes continue to be a health threat. She needs to be released immediately.