Ex-PM gets five years for graft

Khaleda Zia

Khaleda Zia

Zia, also the chief of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), landed in jail Thursday after a Dhaka court sentenced her to five years in prison for embezzling funds meant for a charity.

Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Court-5 on Thursday sentenced the two-time former prime minister to rigorous imprisonment. He read out selected parts of the 632-page verdict.

Law Minister Anisul Huq said Zia was to be imprisoned later yesterday.

In the same case, Zia's eldest son and BNP's senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman was given 10 years in jail.

"As per the party constitution, Rahman has become the acting chairman".

Zia, 72, spent the night in jail after she was sentenced to five years over the embezzlement of $252,000 meant for an orphanage, a charge she has dismissed as politically motivated.

"It was a government blueprint and our leader has been denied justice and been sent jail in a false case in order to harass her for a long time and to weaken our party".

He said that though all the convicts played identical role in the crime but Zia was given a lesser term taking into account her "age and social status".

Zia, decked out in a cream-coloured printed chiffon sari and shawl, and sunglasses, appeared calm while hearing the verdict. A similar jail term was handed down to four of her aides.

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The ex-premier on November 30, 2014 lost her last ditch effort to evade the graft trial as the Supreme Court turned down her second "leave to appeal" petition challenging her indictment and asked her to face trial in the lower court. "He will run the party in consultation with standing committee members and other leaders", he said.

"We call peaceful protests all across the country from Friday noon", he said.

The BNP, which is now absent from the country's Parliament, boycotted the 2014 general elections after the government led by Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League did away with the system of an interim government.

The private television station Somoy said at least five police officers had been injured and two motorcycles torched during the clashes that broke out several kilometres (miles) from the court premises.

Earlier violent clashes broke out between security forces and pro-opposition protesters in the capital Dhaka.

Thousands of supporters of the ruling Awami League party also took to the streets to show their support to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Zia's archrival.

"The Bangladesh government's claims to be open and democratic ring hollow as it cracks down on political dissent", Adams said.

Dhaka-based group Ain O Salish Kendra said a "total of 1,786 persons have been arrested in the last eight days".

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