Bangladesh court sends former leader Khaleda Zia to prison

Bangladesh court sends former leader Khaleda Zia to prison

Bangladesh court sends former leader Khaleda Zia to prison

Bangladesh opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia on Thursday asked her weeping relatives and supporters not to worry and remain strong minutes before she was sentenced to five years in jail in a graft case.

She was convicted of embezzling up to $250,000 from a trust fund dedicated to an orphanage during her tenure as prime minister from 2001-2006.

Khaleda's son Tarique Rahman and four others have been sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Following Thursday's verdict, there is a possibility that she might not be able to contest the election slated for December this year.

Earlier, there were clashes between security forces and opposition protesters who had defied security measures to escort the auto taking Zia to court. In response to opposition supporters who have caused injuries and deaths and committed arson during demonstrations, the security forces have arrested, tortured, killed, and forcibly disappeared hundreds. If the BNP boycotts the polls, like it did five years ago in 2013, then Hasina and her Awami League will rule without the spectre of a real Opposition - to the disappointment of Delhi.

Her party secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir called the court verdict "completely politically motivated". Party leaders said more than 3500 supporters have been detained over the past few days.

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Earlier on Thursday, the normally clogged streets of Dhaka were nearly empty as bus and ferry services were cut and thousands of riot police spread out in anticipation of unrest.

According to the constitution, a person can not contest an election if he or she is jailed for a minimum of two years for moral turpitude, the minister said.

She will be kept at the day care center at the old central jail.

Khaleda was made vice-chairperson of BNP in March 1983 after the assassination of her husband and former President, Ziaur Rahman. She became the Muslim-majority country's first female prime minister in 1991 after democracy was restored.

"We will go to the higher court and file an appeal against this", Zia's counsel told Asia Times, explaining that verdicts delivered by the subordinate court are not final.

The possibility of the absence of Khaleda from the political amphitheatre may be significant for the BNP as political parties in Bangladesh - except the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is a religion-based political outfit - can not survive without faces. He added that many people would see it as a tactic for removing the main contender in the election and a way of "demonising a political opponent".

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