I will be back, says Khaleda Zia after 5-year jail term; clashes in Bangladesh
Former Bangladesh PM Khaleda Zia was convicted of corruption and awarded a five-year jail sentence. Violence erupted in major cities across Bangladesh as news of the guilty verdict broke out.Updated: Feb 08, 2018 23:47 IST
Bangladesh opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia on Thursday asked her weeping relatives and supporters not to worry and remain strong minutes before she was sentenced to five years in jail in a graft case.
Zia was convicted of embezzling $253,000 in donations meant for an orphanage, established in her late husband Ziaur Rahman’s memory when she was the prime minister from 2001-2006, a charge she had consistently dismissed as politically motivated.
The leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who wore an off-white sari and her trademark goggles, offered her prayers and comforted her relatives, most of whom, were in tears, as she left her Gulshan residence for the court.
“There is no need to cry. I will be alright. You all wait, I will be back,” Khaleda said.
Zia’s elder sister, her sisters-in-law, her younger brother, nephews and her lawyers accompanied her to the court.
Plans for appeal
The 72-year-old leader plans to appeal against her conviction, lawyers said, and is likely to be freed on bail during that process, But it may affect her ability to stand in the general elections slated for December.
Zia’s lawyer Khandkar Mahbub Hossain said the ruling was “political vengeance” and would be overturned by a higher court. “We didn’t get justice. We’ll go to the higher court,” Hossain said.
“This is a false and staged case. No way we will accept this verdict,” BNP secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told AFP after the hearing.
Zia will have to stay in jail for at least three days until Sunday. If her lawyers apply for a certified copy of the verdict on Thursday and get the copy on the same day, they may not be able to file the appeal with the high court the same day.
In that case, they will have to move the case on Sunday. It will depend on the high court whether it will give Zia a bail. The court may decide issuance of bail immediately.
“She was given a shorter term considering her health and social status,” judge Mohammad Akhteruzzaman said earlier, as he passed sentence in a packed courtroom amid tight security.
She was immediately taken to a special jail in the old part of the city where she would have to remain until her lawyers file an appeal.
Violence erupted in major cities across Bangladesh at the news of the guilty verdict, with BNP supporters clashing with police and activists from the ruling party.
Police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators in the northeastern city of Sylhet, spokesperson Abdul Wahab told AFP. At least four people have been injured in the clashes, he added.
Police said they arrested at least seven BNP officials in the port city of Chittagong, including the local head of the party after opposition supporters scuffled with police.
‘Biased and compromised’
Khaleda and her party say the charges are part of a plot to keep her and her family out of politics. Party leaders said more than 3,500 supporters have been detained over the past few days.
BNP senior leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi denounced the sentence, calling it “an attempt to eliminate the opponent”.
Her party announced a plan for protests on Friday against what it called a “biased and compromised” ruling.
“This verdict will deepen the country’s existing political crisis and will damage people’s faith in the judiciary,” said BNP secretary general Alamgir.
Her son, Tarique Rahman, and four others were jailed for 10 years at the end of a case that lasted nearly 10 years. Last month prosecutors sought the death penalty over his alleged role in a deadly 2004 grenade attack that injured Hasina.
Zia and her son were detained by an army-backed government in 2007 and spent a year and a half in detention pending trials for alleged corruption.
Her party boycotted 2014 polls in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was re-elected. It was seen by many as a blunder on her part as she remained on the fringe of national politics.
Hasina and Khaleda, both related to former national leaders, have nursed a long and bitter rivalry as they have dominated politics in poverty-stricken Bangladesh for more than two decades.
The renewed tension between them raises the spectre of a long, destabilising spell of unrest for Bangladesh and its economy.