Bangladesh court hands jail term to former PM Khaleda Zia

Bangladesh court hands jail term to former PM Khaleda Zia

Bangladesh police whisked opposition leader Khaleda Zia off to prison Thursday after a court convicted her of corruption and handed down a five-year jail term for embezzling money meant for an orphanage.

Zia, who headed the Bangladesh government twice (1991-1996 and 2001-2006), has repeatedly pleaded not-guilty and claimed she was a victim of "political witch hunt", masterminded by rival and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some 3,500 opposition activists were detained in a sweep by security forces before the verdict was delivered, and ferry and bus services into the capital, Dhaka, were suspended.

The Bangladesh government should publicly order the security forces to abide by global standards on policing demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said.

The Anti-Corruption Commission filed the case with Ramna Police Station accusing six persons including Khaleda and BNP's senior vice chairman and her son Tarique Rahman.

Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Court-5 on Thursday sentenced the two-time former prime minister to five years rigorous imprisonment.

Defense lawyer Mahbubuddin Khokan also said Zia ordered him to appeal.

She is expected to appeal against the verdict, but it may affect her ability to stand in a general election scheduled for December.

The police had to use tear gas shells and fired rubber bullets as the BNP activists exploded crackers and pelted stones at Kakrail area soon after the convoy passed the spot.

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Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed, spokesman for Zia's Bangladesh National Party, called on supporters to demonstate peacerfully against the ruling.

Ahead of the hearing, police fired tear gas at thousands of activists who defied heavy security to escort the vehicle taking Zia to the magistrates court.

Zia and three of her aides were accused of syphoning off about United States dollars 400,000 from the Zia Charitable Trust alone.

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told a news conference that Zia's supporters would hold peaceful demonstrations across the country on Saturday.

The charges against her had already led to her boycotting elections in 2014, which triggered widespread protests at the time.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, political observers in Dhaka said if Zia is not allowed to contest, it would be hard for the BNP to convert the popular support into a win.

Ziaur Rahman was president of Bangladesh from 1977 to 1981, having come to power as head of the country's military at a time of martial law.

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