Bangladesh should End Crackdown on Opposition Supporters: HRW

Elite force Rapid Action Battalion guarding the High Court area

Elite force Rapid Action Battalion guarding the High Court area

The 72-year-old three-time former prime minister and Bangladesh's main opposition leader was sentenced by Dhaka's Special Court in connection with the embezzlement of 21 million taka (about Dollars 250,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust, named after her late husband Ziaur Rahman, a military ruler-turned-politician.

Bangladesh's ex-premier Khaleda Zia was on Thursday sentenced to five years in jail in a corruption case, a setback for opposition BNP chief as she can be barred from contesting the next general election slated for December.

Zia faced a maximum sentence of life in prison, but the judge said he took into consideration the 72-year-old's health and her "social status", an apparent reference to her time as prime minister. He also accused the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of trying "to keep the BNP out of politics".

It is not yet clear if Zia would be able to contest elections as appeal courts in the past have given contradictory verdicts.

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Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party threatened to start broader antigovernment protests, prompting police to ban gatherings and rallies in the capital.

Talking on point of order, they also said the verdict proved that no one would be spared after indulging in corruption.

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 the last election in 2014, Zia's party and its political allies boycotted the race, allowing Hasina to return to power with a landslide victory.

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Speaking to after the verdict on Thursday, CPB President Mujahidul Islam Selim said, "We want a country free of corruption and all the people involved in graft need to stand trial no matter what political party they belong to".

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Bangladesh government to stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining BNP activists. Bangladeshi law-enforcing agencies have reportedly arrested prominent leaders of BNP and its prime Islamist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, over the last few days, to prevent untoward situations. "The way the police dealt with the BNP supporters makes it clear that there are directions to the law-enforcers to avoid confrontation", said a diplomat based in Dhaka. He also added that he hoped Zia would receive bail promptly.

Zia served as prime minister from 1991 to 1996 and then from 2001 to 2006. "There are many people in the country who will view this as a politically-motivated verdict".

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