Mustafa Ali Noor
Bangladesh’s government on Wednesday released jailed former prime minister and main opposition leader Khaleda Zia for six months amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Earlier Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued the executed order for releasing Ms. Zia for six months on condition that she will stay at her residence in Dhaka and not leave the country. The 74-year-old opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief is serving a 17-year prison term in two graft cases since February 8, 2018.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said Zia was freed conditionally on Wednesday afternoon on humanitarian grounds after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s approval.
Khaleda Zia served thrice as the premier since 1991. Her party suffered a miserable defeat in the 2018 elections bagging only six seats in 300-seat parliament.
Her conviction on “moral turpitude” charges debarred her from contesting the polls.
She was sent to jail in February 2018 by a local court on charges of embezzling foreign donations meant for an orphanage, named after her slain husband General Ziaur Rahman, during her premiership between 2001 and 2006.
Ziaur Rahman, a military ruler-turned-politician, was the founder of the BNP.
Speaking to media persons at his residence on March 25, the country’s law minister Anisul Huq reportedly said Zia would be released from jail on humanitarian grounds but would have to remain in her house and can’t leave the country. “Khaleda Zia’s family members had appealed to the home ministry for her release from jail under an executive order so that she could have treatment in London. The appeal was forwarded to me.
“Later, Khaleda Zia’s brother Shamim Iskandar, her sister Selima Rahman, and her [Selima’s] husband Rafiqul Islam met the prime minister and made similar appeals. I gave my opinion to the home ministry to suspend her sentence and release her from jail on condition that she cannot go abroad,” he said.
Welcoming the decision in a tweet, Amnesty International South Asia said, “We welcome the Bangladeshi authorities’ decision to conditionally release the opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia from jail on humanitarian grounds. As she is suffering from a life-threatening illness, she must be given unrestricted access to the healthcare she needs”.