BNP stages nation-wide protest against Zia’s imprisonment

Several thousand supporters of the jailed Bangladeshi ex-premier Khaleda Zia today staged human chain protests across the country to demand the party chief’s release following her five-year imprisonment in a graft case.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters in the capital Dhaka and other major cities protested the February 8 court verdict which sentenced the 72-year-old Zia for embezzling 21 million takas (USD 252,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.

In the same case, her son Tarique Rahman and four others were sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The BNP’s protest came as police allegedly detained hundreds of opposition supporters in the last one week.

Some senior party leaders, including Shamsuzzaman Dudu, were detained while attempting to join the protest today.

Legal experts say Zia’s imprisonment would disqualify her from contesting the next general elections slated for December this year unless the Supreme Court comes up with a different direction during the appeal process.

BNP boycotted the general election in 2014, but Zia appears to be seeking to contest the next polls.

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“She has gone to jail on court orders and we want BNP to secure her freedom through legal process so everyone could take part in the polls,” ruling Awami League spokesman and health minister Mohammad Nasim said.

“It depends on the legal process and the court, let’s see what happens,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters when asked if Zia’s imprisonment would be long.

Kamal added that the two other graft cases and several criminal charges for instigating deadly violence were pending against her.

“If she is arrested in other pending cases, we will have to launch a parallel process to secure her bail separately for every charge which may take time,” a lawyer told PTI preferring anonymity.

The ex-premier on November 30, 2014 lost her last ditch effort to evade the graft trial as the Supreme Court turned down her second “leave to appeal” petition challenging her indictment and asked her to face trial in the lower court.

The high court earlier validated the trial in the lower court which on March 19, 2014 had indicted Zia on two graft charges brought by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

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The ACC alleged that the two charities, the other being the Zia Charitable Trust, existed only on paper and a huge amount of money was misappropriated in the name of the two organisations while Zia was premier during the BNP’s 2001-2006 government.