BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday completed one year in prison with no sign of release soon despite obtaining bail in almost all the cases, except in three of them. With the passing of another week, this is likely to be her longest imprisonment. Earlier, she had been imprisoned in a special sub-jail in the Jatiya Sangsad complex for 372 days after being arrested on September 3, 2007, by the then Army-backed caretaker government.
The 74-year-old opposition leader, who is suffering from asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and problems in her eyes and knees, was given treatment at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University for one month from October 6 last year. However, the demand of BNP leaders and Khaleda’s family members to provide her treatment in a private hospital, such as United Hospital, has not been met.
The BNP, along with its partners in the Jatiya Oikyafront and the 20-Party Alliance, took part in the December 30 parliamentary elections while she was in jail. But the turnout of opposition leaders and activists was poor. After joining politics on January 3, 1983, Khaleda was also arrested three more times during the anti-autocratic movement from 1983 to 1987, but did not have to stay in jail for too long.
The former prime minister, now serving her 17-year-term in the old central jail on Nazimuddin Road in the city in two corruption cases, is said to be passing her days in a quiet atmosphere by reading books, newspapers, offering prayers, and gossiping with the jail staff and her female attendant Fatima. She sometimes watches the state-run BTV and BTV World, sources said.
The release of the BNP chief, who was sent to prison on
February 8 last year following a special court verdict in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case, is being delayed because even if she obtains bail in one case, it has to be obtained in another. Khaleda was implicated in 37 cases on charges of corruption, killing people by setting fire on motor vehicles, creating anarchy, violence, sedition, and making defamatory statements.
Among them, she is serving 17 years in two graft cases—10 years in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case and seven years in the Zia Charitable Trust graft case. Of the rest 35, 19 cases are pending with different courts, while the other cases remain at the investigation stages.
Party leaders and Khaleda’s lawyers termed the cases filed against her politically motivated, alleging that she was unable to come out from jail because of government interference.
Ruling party leaders, however, rejected the allegation, saying that the law was taking its own course and that they were not interfering in the cases.
BNP standing committee member Dr Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said all the cases filed against Khaleda and her long imprisonment were politically motivated. “She was not involved in the charges brought against her in the case for which she was sent to jail. Since the cases are politically motivated, the legal matter here is secondary,” he added.
The elderly leader said the former premier had been sent to jail to keep her out of the 11th parliamentary elections. He alleged that the BNP leaders were denied permission to meet Khaleda despite their repeated applications.
Khaleda’s lawyer, barrister Kaiser Kamal, said the cases were politically motivated and had been lodged to harass her politically.
He said the verdict against Khaleda in the Zia Orphanage Trust case was illegal. He also said that Khaleda Zia would have been free, had the law been allowed to take its own course.
He claimed government interference was preventing her release.
“We think it is absolutely illegal. She is kept in the prison for a long time because of political grudge and vendetta,” he said.
Kaiser Kamal, who is also the legal affairs secretary of the BNP, said that Khaldea was denied bail in bailable cases and they had to approach the High Court (HC) and the Appellate Division for her to get bail. “And in a few cases that did not involve bailable offence, her co-accused were already out on bail. We think political influence is being exerted on the judiciary. Therefore, she is unable to come out of jail,” he added.
He alleged that her lawyers were not being allowed to meet her despite repeated requests. The last time they met her was in the middle of November last year.
Meanwhile, the BNP, which carried out different protest programmes after Khaleda was sent to jail, has been demanding her release. This time, the party announced February 8 as Doa Dibosh (prayer day) to mark Khaleda’s one year in prison.