Ex Bangladesh PM Jailed for Five Years for Corruption

By Haroon Janjua

A court in Dhaka sent on Thursday the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh and opposition leader to prison for five years for stealing from an orphanage trust.

Begum Zia Book-opening Ceremony 1 Mar 2010 croppedKhaleda Zia (Source: Mohammed Tawsif Salam, CC BY-SA 3.0)Khaleda Zia, 72, her son Tarique Rahman and four of their aides were convicted of stealing 21 million taka (US$253,000) in foreign donations received by an orphanage trust set up during her 2001 to 2006 term as prime minister, lawyers said.

"The verdict proves no one is above the law," Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul Haque said after the verdict that was announced amid tight security. Thousands of supporters took to the streets of the capital to protest the ruling.

Zia’s lawyers said she will most likely be freed on bail and appeal the verdict.

“She was given a shorter term considering her health and social status,” said Judge Mohammad Akhteruzzaman after reading the verdict in a packed courtroom.

Khaleda’s son, Tarique Rahman, and four others - a lawmaker, Zia’s secretary, her nephew and a businessman - were jailed for 10 years each at the end of a case that lasted nearly 10 years.

Rahman, the vice chairman of the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has been living in London for the past nine years.

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir accused the government of trying "to keep the BNP out of politics."

"They have already detained more than 3,000 of our activists and leaders from various parts of the country," he said.

"We call for peaceful protests throughout the country on Friday noon," he said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Bangladesh government to stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining BNP activists. It also accused the government of “violating the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly” by preventing opposition supporters from demonstrating.