Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda released from jail

Tapos Kanti Das and M Moneruzzaman | Published: 16:17, Mar 25,2020 | Updated: 23:33, Mar 25,2020


Security personnel and hospital staff take BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia out of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital in Dhaka after she was temporarily released from her imprisonment on Wednesday. — Sourav Lasker

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson and former prime minister Khaleda Zia was released from jail on conditions for six months on Wednesday, after 25 and a half months of her imprisonment.

Khaleda was released from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University’s prison cell at cabin block at about 4:15pm on executive order of conditional suspension of her convictions in two cases for six months.

Family members of Khaleda Zia and BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and other senior leaders went to the cabin block of BSMMU to receive her.

The BNP chairperson was brought to the ground floor of BSMMU cabin block  from the prison cell at its fifth floor by a wheel chair while she had on a pink hijab and burqa, sky blue face mask and spectacles while her hands were covered with a golden scarf.

She was flanked by family members, party leaders, doctors and law enforcement agency personnel while party leaders and activists have been waiting outside the hospital since morning chanting slogans to greet Khaleda.

As she boarded a car instead of the SUV she usually used to use, the face mask was taken off and she looked calm and relieved.

Earlier, despite call of the party leaders and police personnel to stay away at the present situation of coronavirus and warning of Khaleda’s health as she was 75 years old and was suffering from asthma which are risky for coronavirus infected cases, hundreds of emotional party activists gathered in front of the cabin block.

The party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul and joint secretary general Habib-un-Nabi Khan Sohel had to come down to drive away the party activists.

Khaleda reached her Gulshan home ‘Firoza’ on road 79 around 5:30pm. Party standing committee members and relatives greeted her at her residence.

Khaleda’s journey back home was slow as a huge crowd consisting of party leaders and activists escorted her all the way in spite of the obstacles by the law enforcement agencies who asked the party leaders not to gather due to the coronavirus situation.

The government suspended the BNP chairperson’s conviction responding to appeal of Khaleda’s family in the backdrop of BNP’s demand of her unconditional release and ruling Awami League’s claim that the government had nothing to do as it was a legal issue and the only way of her release was to seek presidential mercy confessing her guilt.

Inspector general of prisons Brigadier general AKM Mustafa Kamal Pasha, who read the government order, told New Age that she was freed for six months only on two conditions — she would take medical treatment from home and she would not leave the country.

Earlier, attorney general Mahbubey Alam told reporters at his office that she would be brought back to the jail in case any of the conditions was breached.

He said that the procedures of her cases would continue as before.

Khaleda’s lawyer Kayser Kamal said that she was now facing 37 politically motivated cases, 33 of which were filed by Awami League government.  

She was granted ad interim bails in all but in the two cases related to Zia Orphanage Trust and Zia Charitable Trust.

Kayser said that her constitutional rights were curtailed by not granting her bail in the two cases.

‘We have long been saying that Khaleda’s release would depend on the government’s desire,’ he said.

With the release of Khaleda, her house-help Fatema Begum, who joined Khaleda in the old central jail at Nazimuddin Road in the capital on February 8, 2018 as the jail authorities allowed her to remain there to assist her, also accompanied Khaleda on Wednesday.

Fatema will be staying with Khaleda at her home to look after her as she did in jail, BNP insiders said.

After meeting her at her residence, the party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul told reporters in the evening that she would remain in home and a medical board formed for her treatment had already been meeting and discussing her conditions. 

He said that the standing committee members met her to inform her that they were happy with her release and prayed for her early recovery.

‘We did not have any political discussion with her,’ he said.

He denied making any comment on the attorney general’s comment that Khaleda would be taken back to prison if she got involved in politics.

He also said that Khaleda sought good wishes of the countrymen and urged them to remain in quarantine during this dreadful pandemic so that everyone remained safe. 

Party insiders said that a six-member medical team had visited Khaleda in the evening.

Law minister Anisul Huq on Tuesday disclosed that Khaleda would be released under section 401(1) of the CrPC for her age, on humanitarian grounds and on the condition that she would stay at her home and will not go abroad during the period.

Lawyers said that it was the first instance in Bangladesh that a convicted person was released by the executive branch after it stayed sentences in accordance with Section 401 (1) of the CrPC that provides: ‘When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the Government may at any time without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced.’

Earlier Khaleda’s brother Shamim Eskandar submitted an application to the home ministry seeking her unconditional release and later her application was forwarded to the law ministry for its opinion.

Shamim Eskandar’s application came after the High Court on February 28, 2020 once again rejected her bail petition in the Zia Charitable Trust Case.

On December 12, 2019, the Appellate Division upheld the High Court order rejecting her bail on July 31, 2019. 

She prayed for the bail to facilitate her ‘advanced treatment’ in the United Kingdom for her chronic arthritis as prescribed by the medical board formed by the BSMMU.

Her lawyers said that there had been no improvement of her health condition since she was shifted to the BSMMU on April 1, 2018.

On February 14, AL general secretary Obaidul Quader told reporters that BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul had phoned him for Khaleda’s release.

Asked on the same day, whether he got any response from Obaidul during the telephone conversation, Fakhrul urged all not to do politics over Khaleda’s health.

On February 18, 2020, Khaleda filed a fresh bail petition amid conflicting political statements by leaders of the ruling Awami League and the opposition BNP over her release.

Khaleda had been in jail since February 8, 2018, the day when she was sentenced by a special court in Dhaka in a graft case which the BNP terms false and fabricated. She was taken to the Old Dhaka Central Jail on Nazimuddin Road in the capital from where she was shifted to BSMMU on April 1, 2019 and was undergoing treatment there since then.

Khaleda was granted bail in all cases except the Zia Orphanage Trust and Zia Charitable Trust cases in which she was sentenced to varied terms of imprisonment.  

On February 8, 2018, a special judge’s court in Dhaka jailed Khaleda for five years in the Zia Orphanage Trust Case but the High Court on the Anti-Corruption Commission’s appeal doubled the sentence to 10 years.

On October 29, 2018, the same special court sentenced her to seven years in jail in the Zia Charitable Trust Case filed by the AL government in 2011.

Her appeals against the sentences are now pending.  

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