Bangladesh opposition leader Zia gets 5-year jail term for graft

Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia

A Bangladesh court has sentenced former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years in prison on corruption charges.

The conviction means that Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, will be barred from running in the next national elections scheduled for December.

Traffic was thrown out of gear and shops closed as security forces took the 72-year-old politician to the old central jail in Dhaka after the verdict.

Zia and five others, including her son Tarique Rahman, were accused of embezzling 21 million takas (approximately Rs 1.6 crore) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust, which was established during her rule in 2001-2006.

"The judgment in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case has proved that both Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman are corrupt", Hasan Mahmud, AL publicity and publication secretary, said at another press conference at party president's Dhanmondi office.

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

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

Khaleda, who is being accompanied by her domestic help, was taken to the jail on a white SUV surrounded by a contingent of law enforcers from the Special court at Bakshirbazar.

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In her 35 years of political career, Khaleda has gone to jail several times but never due to conviction.

"She was given a shorter term considering her health and social status", judge Mohammad Akhteruzzaman said earlier, as he passed sentence in a packed courtroom amid tight security. Rahman, her son and heir-apparent, lives in London.

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

Five people were injured when police fired rubber bullets at protesters in the northeastern city of Sylhet, witnesses said.

Zia and three of her aides were accused of syphoning off about Dollars 400,000 from the Zia Charitable Trust alone. Ahead of the verdict, hundreds of its supporters have been also arrested.

BNP's joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said the sentence was a "blueprint to destroy Begum Khaleda Zia,"adding that the "people of Bangladesh will reject this verdict".

Her party boycotted 2014 polls in which Ms Hasina was re-elected but is expected to contest the next election.

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