Bangladesh ex-PM sentenced to 5 years in jail

Bangladesh opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia will appeal against a 5-year jail term for corruption handed down by a court on Thursday as thousands of supporters took to the streets of the capital to protest her innocence.

Right now, political observers in Bangladesh are divided on whether Khaleda, 72, can lead the party in the election, as the law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years.

They embezzled over Tk 21 million ($252,000) from foreign donations intended for a charity named after former president Ziaur Rahman, Zia's husband.

The Court also awarded Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman 10 years in jail for aiding her mother in the embezzlement.

Defense lawyer Mahbubuddin Khokan said Zia had ordered him to appeal against the decision.

She was immediately taken to a special jail in the old part of the city where she would have to remain until her lawyers file an appeal. 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. Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators ahead of Zia's hearing.

The other convicts are former lawmaker Kazi Salimul Haque Kamal, businessman Sharfuddin Ahmed, ex-premier's principal secretary Kamal Uddin Siddiqui and her nephew Mominur Rahman.

Police set up checkpoints at main entrances to Dhaka to prevent thousands of rural supporters of BNP and its allies from marching to the capital.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party's (BNP) exiled senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman has been at the helm of the party in absence of the party chairperson and his mother Khaleda Zia.

"The Bangladesh government's claims to be open and democratic ring hollow as it cracks down on political dissent", said the group's Asia director Brad Adams. She became the Muslim-majority country's first female prime minister in 1991 after democracy was restored.

Judge Mohammad Akhteruzzaman convicted Zia and sentenced her to five years in jail in a crowded courtroom, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Hundreds of BNP supporters chanting slogans walked alongside Zia's vehicle as it approached the court, while pro-opposition lawyers staged raucous protests at the Supreme Court.

Asif Nazrul, Professor of law at Dhaka University, calls it "a controversial verdict".

Security has been beefed up around government and non-governmental establishments across the country ahead of the verdict.


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