Bangladesh – A court in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, has sentenced former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to jail in a corruption case.
Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Court-5 on Thursday sentenced the two-time former prime minister to five years rigorous imprisonment. He read out selected 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 was announced amid tight security.
Zia, chairperson of the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and five others were accused of embezzlement of funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.
Tarique Rahman, Zia's elder son and heir apparent, and four others were sentenced to 10 years in this politically significant case that comes ahead of general elections due in December.
Rahman, vice chairman of the BNP, has been living in the UK for the past nine years.
The 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 also received 10-year jail terms are former legislator Quazi Salimul Haq, former principal secretary to Zia, Kamal Uddin Siddique, Zia's nephew Mominur Rahman and businessman Sharfuddin Ahmed.
The verdict could bar 72-year-old Zia from running in the general elections as the country’s constitution prohibits a convicted person sentenced to over two years from participating.
Zia, decked out in a cream-coloured printed chiffon sari and shawl, and sunglasses, appeared calm while hearing the verdict.
After the verdict, she was taken to the Woman Cell and Daycare Centre at the old Dhaka Central jail, where jail authorities have already renovated her cell.
Defence lawyer Khandakar Mahbub Hossain said the 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 soon.
BNP Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir accused the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of trying “to keep the BNP out of politics”.