Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has initiated a law suit against British Airways, claiming over a million pounds in damages for denying her a boarding pass on April 23 to return to her country.
In the five-page legal notice issued to the Managing Director of BA on behalf of Hasina, the Legal Action Committee of the UK Awami League has claimed that the party chief had suffered 'grave mental stress and agony' due to the carrier's decision to prevent her from boarding the plane despite having a valid ticket and passport.
It gave BA two weeks' time to reply to the notice.
Former Supreme Court judge Shamsuddin Choudhury, who is the chairman of the Committee, told media persons, "Sheikh Hasina is determined to pursue her remedy through law suit, claiming damages to the tune of over a million pounds for the humiliation she suffered and the damage caused to her image."
Sheikha Hasina, who is leaving for Dhaka on Sunday night, told media persons at an informal dinner on Friday night, "I have left it to my party's Legal Action Committee and solicitors to file the suit and they will look after it."
Asked about her future plans, the 60-year-old daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founding father of Bangladesh, said, "First, I want to go back to my country. Then I will see. I have faith in our people and they will decide."
Asked whether the military-backed government would restore democracy, Hassina, who was the Prime Minister between 1996 and 2001, said, "We have our past experience with military government. How can they give democracy? They can give martial democracy not people's democracy."
However, Hasina added, "I would not like to predict anything. First let me go back and observe the situation."
Asked whether she had any strategy to mobilise public opinion, Hasina said, "Right now all political activities have been banned in Bangladesh. I have always fought for democracy and I will continue to do so in the future."
Asked about the threat to her life, Hasina, who suffered an ear injury in a grenade attack on her rally in August, 2004, said, "I am not concerned (about the threats). If I have to die, I will die. I have trust in Allah and the people of Bangladesh."
In the legal notice issued 'as a prelude' to a law suit against the British Airways for breach of contract, Choudhury said that the British Airlines cannot absolve its liability by resorting to Section 7, Paragraph 16, of its General Conditions of Carriage.
"Its text was not brought to the notice of Sheikh Hasina either at the time the contract was concluded (purchase of ticket) or at any time beforehand," the notice said.
Section 7a16 says: "If the immigration authority for the country you are travelling to, or for a country which you have a stopover, has told us (either orally or in writing) that it has decided not to allow you to enter that country, even if you have, or appear to have, valid travel documents, the Airlines can deny the boarding pass."
In Hasina's case, the notice pointed out that the notification was issued by the Civil Aviation Authority and not the Immigration Authority.
Further the 'right to refuse provision' could not be deemed to apply to a passenger whose destination is her own country, because neither under the national nor under the Customary International Law, there exists any mechanism to thwart the entry of a national into her own country, the notice said.
"In fact by refusing to allow her to travel, you did connive with the illegal, unlawful and unenforceable message the notification contained," the notice said.
The law suit sought for general as well as special damages on the grounds that Hasina, "because of her exceptionally distinctive stature and standing, suffered ordeal and predicament of unprecedented proportion, leading her to undergo grave mental stress and agony."
She faced 'dreadful humiliation' at the Heathrow Airport, where nearly 500 Bengali expatriates were present to bid farewell to her, it claimed.
She could not be present in Bangladesh at a time which was, for political reason, very crucial, the notice said.
"It was Her Excellency's unequivocal determination to rush to Bangladesh and appear before the courts to repel the allegations laid against her. As she was precluded from travelling back home, the courts concerned declared that she was an absconder and then issued warrant of arrest against her. These events irreparably tarnished her image, over and above the distress she has been through. Her political rivals branded her as a political deserter," the notice said.