Website - Mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially in Women and Children - http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/trafficking/index.htm
CATW - Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
CATW Representatives Go to
After trying to obtain visas to
Sigma Huda’s arrest and detention are part of the political
Sigma Huda was arrested in July, 2007 and sentenced the next month by a special court to a 3 year jail term on charges of aiding and abetting corruption. Bail, although granted to her by the High Court, was subsequently denied by the Appellate Court. Sigma was made to appear in court, transported from the jail by ambulance, hooked up to oxygen and unable to walk, given her deteriorating health condition that was exacerbated by her arrest and detention.
Sigma’s health problems are multiple and major: a totally occluded mid right coronary artery, coronary heart disease, accumulation of fluid in her feet and lungs, chest pain, an irregular heart beat and other cardiac problems that require immediate hospitalization. As her medical reports acknowledge, ischemic(inadequate blood circulation) heart disease in women is often silent so she requires regular skilled monitoring of her condition. Additionally, Sigma suffers from type 2 diabetes, requiring several medications, which have not been administered properly in jail. She has diabetic nephropathy, or renal impairment, that has led to chronic kidney failure. She also suffers from spondylolisthesis (displacement of one vertebrae upon the other), causing severe spinal and back pain.
When it became clear that we would not be allowed to visit with Sigma in jail, we set about planning another way to meet her. Aided by some Bangladeshis, Dorchen and I both wearing a salwar kameez went into the courtroom where a second trial of Sigma and Nazmul, her husband (and former Minister of Parliament and Minister of Communications in the BNP administration), was in progress. We were able to see Sigma during a trial break and were shocked at her condition. After staying about ½ hour to talk with Sigma, we were detected as a foreign presence in the courtroom and were told by the armed guards to leave. However, we were overjoyed that we had succeeded in meeting with Sigma for even a short time because Sigma had been expectantly awaiting our visit and seemed energized by our presence. Her family told us how much it meant that we had come to see her and plead for her treatment and release.
After meeting with Sigma, we were able to arrange several
key meetings that helped us obtain more information about Sigma’s
situation. We met with a representative
from the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry. We had been told by government
authorities that Sigma had little support from Bangladeshi NGOs, which we knew to
be false but needed to refute in an evidentiary way. Therefore, we interviewed
several prominent human rights groups, one that publishes ongoing and trenchant
reports of the current government’s repressive measures and lack of due
process. They affirmed that Sigma was an historic human rights defender in
This same day, we met with several of the lawyers who are handling Sigma’s legal defense. They outlined the 6 criminal cases pending against Sigma, the main charges against her, and were helpful in our general understanding of the violations of Sigma’s due process rights.
With the help of Sigma’s sister, we decided to hold a press conference on February 9, 2008 at Dhaka Reporters Unity. Given that it was a Saturday and short notice, we feared that few media might attend. We were gratified when 28 journalists came, among them 6 TV networks and key international and regional news networks such as the AP, Reuters, AFP and UNP (the Bangladeshi News Service). Janice Raymond outlined Sigma’s health condition, the tireless advocacy of Sigma Huda on behalf of many individuals and groups who have been victimized and deprived of justice and basic freedoms, especially women whose legal rights have been violated in the most extreme ways such as acid survivors and victims of trafficking, and our awareness that Sigma’s situation is the plight of many other Bangladeshis in jail. Dorchen Leidholdt emphasized our concerns about Sigma’s due process rights, the special court apparatus, and the transparency of judicial procedures. She also expressed our disappointment that the Bangladeshi authorities had rejected our request to visit Sigma in jail. Both of us urged the government to transfer Sigma to a hospital or to her home where she could obtain much-needed monitoring, treatment and relief.
Our sense from our brief encounter with Sigma and the court
process and from interviewing knowledgeable sources is that Sigma, who has
always been a forthright advocate of women’s self-determination as one of the
first woman lawyers in
Bangladeshi jails are grim and gritty, much more so the women’s prison. In speaking with various members of Sigma’s family and others who are cognizant of prison conditions, we learned that the women’s facilities differ substantially from men’s, another example of gender discrimination. This was illustrated by comparing the environment of Nazmul’s internment to Sigma’s. Nazmul has his own space, an area where he can walk and exercise, more sanitary facilities and the society of other male prisoners with whom he is allowed to converse. In contrast, Sigma is incarcerated in filthy conditions in a common area with multiple women who share one toilet that constantly overflows, is not allowed to talk at length with other women, and has no space in which to walk. Every day that she leaves the jail to go to court, she must climb 3 flights of stairs to get back into her cellblock.
On the last evening that we were in Dhaka, we met again with a representative from the US Embassy, especially to emphasize our firsthand knowledge of Sigma’s health condition and to reiterate the immediate need for her removal from the prison to a specialized medical facility and ultimately to her home for monitoring and treatment.
We conclude this report with a final statement made at the
CATW press conference in
Contact: Dr. Janice Raymond, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)
G. Raymond. Ph.D
University of Massachusetts, Amherst (USA)
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)
PO Box 9338, N. Amherst, MA 01059 USA
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