Khaleda Zia jailed for five years in corruption case | Daily News

Khaleda Zia jailed for five years in corruption case


A court in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, has sentenced former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years in jail in a corruption case.

Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Court-5 on Thursday sentenced the two-time former prime minister to rigorous imprisonment. He read out some selective parts of the 632-page verdict.

"The verdict proves no one is above the law," Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul Haque said after the verdict that was announced amid tight security.

Zia, the chairperson of the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), along with five others, was accused of embezzlement of funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.

Tarique Rahman, Zia's elder son and believed to be her political heir, and four others were given 10 years in the politically significant case ahead of the general elections due to be held in December.

Rahman, the vice chairman of the BNP, has been living in London for the past nine years.

All six were accused of embezzling over Tk 21 million ($252,000) from foreign donations intended for a charity named after former president Ziaur Rahman, Zia's husband.

The four others who were also given 10 year jail-term are former lawmaker Quazi Salimul Haq, former principal secretary to Zia, Kamal Uddin Siddique, Zia's nephew Mominur Rahman and businessman Sharfuddin Ahmed.

Zia's political future

The verdict could possibly bar 72-year-old Zia from contesting in the general elections as the country’s constitution prohibits a convicted person with over two years jail-term from participating.

Zia, decked in a cream colored printed chiffon sari, a shawl of the same colour, and sunglasses appeared nonchalant while hearing the verdict. She didn't give any reactions.

After the verdict, she was taken at the Woman Cell and Daycare Centre at the old Dhaka Central jail. The Jail authorities have already renovated the cell.

Defence lawyer Khandakar Mahbub Hossain said, this verdict failed to reflect the truth. "We will go to the higher court against this," he said, adding that he hoped Zia would receive bail promptly.

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir accused the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of trying "to keep the BNP out of politics".

"They have already detained more than 3,000 of our activists and leaders from various parts of the country," he said.

Alamgir said, anticipating "what the verdict would be", Zia had earlier ordered all the BNP activists and leaders to "refrain from any violent protests and processions".

"We call peaceful protests all across the country from Friday noon," he said.

The BNP had boycotted the last election held in 2014 as it wanted the elections under a care-taker government.

Police use tear gas

But supporters hit the streets and clashed with police and blocked roads in Dhaka in the wake of the verdict.

Earlier, thousands of BNP leaders and activists escorted Zia’s motorcade on the way to the court despite an overwhelming presence of security forces deployed in the capital.

Activists of the ruling Awami League and its affiliate organisations also had occupied key points of Dhaka city to stop BNP supporters from demonstrating.

Anticipating blockades and protests, the government had detained several senior BNP leaders while several others have gone into hiding.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Bangladesh government to stop arbitrary arrests and detentions of opposition BNP activists. It also accused the government of “violating the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly” by preventing opposition supporters from demonstrating.

Dhaka-based group Ain O Salish Kendra said a "total of 1,786 persons have been arrested in the last eight days".

The HRW, in a statement on Thursday, said Bangladesh should publicly order the security forces to abide by international standards on policing demonstrations.

Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said it was crucial for security forces to act with restraint at all times.

"The Bangladesh government’s claims to be open and democratic ring hollow as it cracks down on political dissent," he said.

First female prime minister

Zia was catapulted into Bangladeshi politics in the early 1980s when her husband former President Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated.

She became the Muslim-majority country's first female prime minister in 1991 after democracy was restored.

In the 35 years of her political career, Zia has spent times in jail on a number of occasions. This is for the first time, she has been convicted.

Zia faces a total of 37 cases out of which chargesheets have been submitted in 17 cases.

After skipping the hearings for as much as 143 times over the last six years, Zia finally appeared before the court on October 19, 2017 and obtained bail.

Asif Nazrul, Professor of law of Dhaka University, calls it "a controversial verdict". "There are many people in the country who will view this as a politically-motivated verdict."

Nazrul said many people will see that as a tactic for removing the main contender in the election and a way of "demonising a political opponent".

What sort of a punishment will he, or should he receive? Share your thoughts on the comment section below..


Add new comment