The High Court on March 12 granted Zia a four-month interim bail, considering her age and health issues after the special court released the full verdict.
Bangladesh’s Supreme Court today set May 15 as the date to pronounce its verdict on a plea by the country’s anti-graft body challenging the bail granted to former prime minister and opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia, serving the five years jail term in a corruption case. After hearing the arguments of both sides for two consecutive days, the four-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, concluded the hearing and reserved its order. “The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court concluded the hearing and will pronounce its verdict on Tuesday (May 15),” a spokesman of the Attorney General’s office said. Zia, 73, was sentenced to five years in jail in February by a lower court 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, during her 2001-2006 premiership.
The High Court on March 12 granted Zia a four-month interim bail, considering her age and health issues after the special court released the full verdict. But the former premier had to remain in the old jailhouse of Dhaka Central Jail as the apex court stayed the high court’s order for 20 days. When the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the State moved the apex court’s Appellate Division, it suspended the bail order until yesterday, allowing the two sides to start appeals against the bail. The bench was scheduled to pass the order yesterday, but it deferred the hearing till today. During the hearing yesterday, ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam and Attorney General (AG) Mahbubey Alam presented their arguments on the appeal challenging Zia’s bail.
The AG and the lawyer for the graft commission argued that the lower court had already taken a lenient stance in handing down the jail term to Zia due to her age, and this “lenient punishment” could not be a reason for her bail. They also said that Zia challenged her conviction in the High Court and “let her get acquitted there”, but now she did not deserve the bail for her sickness as the medical board, which had examined her, had not recommended that she be hospitalised, which could have been the ground for her bail. Arguing on behalf of the former premier, top pro-BNP lawyers, including former attorney general A J Mohamamd Ali pleaded for Zia’s bail on the ground of her ill health and old age.
Zia’s imprisonment shook the country’s political scenario ahead of the general elections in December this year. The BNP, the main opposition outside parliament, alleged the trial was politically motivated to debar her from contesting elections, an allegation denied by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government. Political analysts feared the BNP is facing political wilderness after Zia’s conviction, which is likely to disqualify her from elections unless she could obtain a different verdict from the Supreme Court.