Press Trust of india

Bangla SC stays Khaleda Zia's release on bail for 20 days

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Dhaka, Mar 19 (PTI) Bangladesh Supreme Court today stayed the release of former prime minister Khaleda Zia on bail in a corruption case in which she was sentenced to five years in jail, prompting her party to announce a nation-wide demonstrations tomorrow demanding her unconditional release.

Zia, 72, was sentenced on February 8 in connection with the embezzlement of 21 million taka (about USD 250,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust, named after her late husband Ziaur Rahman, a military ruler-turned-politician.

"The full bench of the appellate division (of the Supreme Court) stayed until May 8 her (Zia's) bail, which means she will not be freed until that day," a spokesperson from the Attorney General's office said.

The five member apex court bench, headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, also fixed May 8 the date for hearing the arguments supporting and opposing Zia's four-month interim bail by the  High Court.

The Chief Justice said after examining records of the case, all the four judges of the bench unanimously reached the decision.

Justice Hossain also asked the government and the Anti-Corruption-Commission (ACC), alongside Zia's counsels to submit concise statements in two weeks explaining their points for opposing and seeking her bail.

Zia's counsels, however, in an abortive plea sought to advance the date for hearing on her bail, saying the apex court will go on vacation from April 13 and remain close until May 6, lingering the 73-year-old ex-premiers imprisonment.

To which, Justice Hossain said that the court will hear on May 8 and conclude the hearing.

Zia's son Tarique Rahman and four others were sentenced to 10 years in jail in the same case.

On March 12, the High Court here granted the chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) a four-month interim bail.

According to legal experts, even if Zia would have got the bail, she was unlikely to be released from jail as she was shown "arrested" in another criminal case under a separate arrest warrant by a court in central Comilla district.

The lower court's verdict shook the country's political scenario ahead of the general elections in December this year.

The BNP, a main opposition outside parliament, alleged it as a "politically motivated" to debar Zia from contesting elections, an allegation denied by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government.

Following apex court's order, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said at a media briefing that the government has driven the last nail in its coffin by denying the bail to Zia.

He announced that the party would launch countrywide demonstrations demanding her unconditional release tomorrow.

But political analysts earlier feared the BNP was now facing a political wilderness after Zia's conviction, which is likely to disqualify her for elections unless she could obtain an acquittal.

The BNP boycotted the general election in 2014 over polls time government system amid violent protests and spearheaded a protracted street campaign enforcing a nationwide blockade coinciding with its first anniversary that saw some 500 people dead in arson attacks.

Zia, however, appears to be seeking to contest the next general elections scheduled for December this year.

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