By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party said Monday that the health of its imprisoned chief, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, had deteriorated to the point she could no longer walk by herself.
BNP officials questioned why the government had denied permission for Zia, 72, to seek treatment at her preferred United Hospital, a private facility in Dhaka. Earlier this month, BNP officials reported that she had suffered a mild stroke in prison, where she was sentenced four months ago on corruption charges.
“What we have come to know is that her condition worsened. She cannot walk without support from others. We are worried about her,” Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, a former minister and member of the BNP’s top standing committee, told BenarNews on Monday night.
He accused the government of covering up the truth about Zia’s health since she was convicted on Feb. 8 and sentenced to five years in prison. Her conviction effectively disqualified Zia from contending in Bangladesh’s next general election, due to take place sometime in December.
“We repeatedly urged the government to allow her to get treatment at the United Hospital where she had been treated before. But the government has not been listening to our demand,” Hossain said. “If any harm is done to her, the government must shoulder the responsibility.”
Refuting BNP’s statement, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said Zia was in good health but had refused treatment from two of the best hospitals in Bangladesh – Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Hospital and the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) – which are both public.
He said she wanted to be taken to United Hospital so doctors could determine that she needed to leave the country for special care.
Khan also challenged BNP’s report on Zia’s condition.
“She has been in very good health. Her blood pressure and sugar level are quite normal,” he told BenarNews. “Her party men have been making false claims that she cannot walk by herself.
“I sent the inspector general of prisons to see Zia to ask if she would take treatment at CMH or BSMMU. She rejected the offer,” he said.
Syed Iftekhar Uddin, the inspector general of prisons, is a physician.
“Her motive is clear. If allowed to go to United Hospital, her doctors would suggest the she must be sent abroad for treatment. The doctors at BSMMU or CMH are quite capable of treating Zia,” Khan said.
On Saturday, 20 family members spent two hours with Zia at the old jail on Nazimuddin Road in Dhaka where she is the only prisoner. The jail is guarded by police and members of the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite force that Zia created while serving as prime minister.
Meanwhile, BNP Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and other leaders were denied access by prison officials.
After speaking with family members, Alamgir on Sunday told reporters about Zia’s health.
“What we heard from them cannot but make us worried. Her condition deteriorated further. Now, she cannot walk without support from others,” Alamgir said.
On Monday, BNP Senior Joint Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi discussed Zia’s need for special care.
“The United Hospital has the facilities to do x-rays of the metallic plate fitted into Zia’s knees,” Rizvi said, adding that its CT scanner and MRI machine met the highest standards.
“Her personal physicians suggested getting treatment from United Hospital,” he said, adding that current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was treated at the private Square Hospital when she was imprisoned in 2007 and 2008.
Prison rules do not allow for treatment at private hospitals, Khan said.