By Pulack Ghatack
The Bangladeshi Supreme Court on Monday suspended a lower court’s ruling that granted bail to opposition leader Khaleda Zia, effectively requiring her to remain in jail on corruption charges until a hearing scheduled for May 8 on her temporary release.
Zia’s defense lawyer, Zainul Abedin, described the Supreme Court’s order to suspend her bail as unprecedented.
“The court has not provided any reason for the stay order,” Abedin told reporters.
Zia, 72, was sentenced on Feb. 8 to five years in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than 21 million taka (U.S. $252,000) from the Zia Orphanage Trust, which she headed. Following her sentencing, the former three-time prime minister was whisked away to a special jail in the capital Dhaka, where she has since been held in isolation.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP’s secretary general, rejected the Supreme Court’s decision during a news conference Monday and called on party leaders and supporters to stage nationwide protests.
Monday’s High Court ruling means Zia will not get her temporary freedom, attorney general Mahbubey Alam told BenarNews.
“She must stay behind bars until May 8,” Alam said.
Last week, the High Court granted Zia a four-month bail, but the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the government filed separate petitions requesting that the Supreme Court cancel the court ruling, which would have given her temporary freedom.
Zia’s conviction could prevent her from seeking office again through the next general election, which is widely expected to take place in December or early 2019. Her son, Tarique Rahman, who is self-exiled in London, and four other defendants were each sentenced to 10 years in prison in last month’s verdict in the same case.
The judge said Zia was given a lighter prison term because the court had considered her “social status and age.”
Zia, who is also facing charges in other criminal cases, has accused the ruling Awami League, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, of bringing false allegations against her as part of a plot to keep her out of politics.
BNP, which is expected to participate in the forthcoming election, boycotted the 2014 national polls during which Hasina was re-elected. The BNP stayed out in protest of Awami’s refusal to allow a neutral caretaker government to run the country during the election period, as previously stipulated in Bangladesh’s constitution.