[JURIST] Leandro Despouy [official website], UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, expressed apprehension Thursday over the conviction and sentencing of UN Special Rapporteur Sigma Huda [official profile, DOC]. Huda was sentenced [JURIST report] to a three-year jail term by the Bangladesh Supreme Court Monday for her involvement in a corruption scheme headed by her husband, former Bangladeshi Communications Minister Nazmul Huda. Despouy expressed concern in a statement [text] that the independence of the court had been "severely affected" and that the trial was "intimidating" due to the military and police presence throughout:
The Special Rapporteur received information indicating that the right to legal representation and the independence of the court were severely affected during her trial. According to these reports, defense lawyers felt pressured. They had no opportunity to visit her in prison and could only meet with her at the end of the hearings. They also had difficulties accessing the case files and other relevant information, thus compromising their ability to ensure an adequate defence. The atmosphere during the trial was reportedly intimidating, with military and police presence both outside and inside the courtroom, and access of the public and the media to the courtroom was considerably restricted.
Despouy asked Bangladeshi authorities to monitor any appeals Huda might bring for fairness and transparency. Huda's husband was also sentenced to a seven-year jail term on Monday as part of a government crackdown on corruption [JURIST report].
Prosecutors alleged [JURIST report] that Sigma aided Nazmul in extorting almost $300,000 USD from a construction company while he was in office. While UN experts are generally granted immunity from prosecution under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [PDF text], UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon refused to extend immunity to Huda [JURIST report] in July, saying that the allegations against her "appear not to be related to, or otherwise fall within, her functions as special rapporteur." AFP has more.