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Bangladesh Supreme Court defers Khaleda Zia’s bail hearing

PTI | Dhaka |

Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Tuesday deferred until Wednesday the hearing on a plea by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission challenging the bail granted to former prime minister and opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia in a corruption case.

Zia, 72, 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 bail to Zia considering her age and health issues but the ex-premier continues to serve the term at the old jailhouse of Dhaka Central Jail as the apex court stayed the court’s order.

The Supreme Court’s Appellate Division bench, led by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, was scheduled to pass the order today, but it deferred the hearing until tomorrow.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam and main appellant Anti-Corruption Commission’s lawyers had appeared with their plea seeking to overturn the March 12 High Court order.

Top pro-BNP lawyers including former law minister Moudud Ahmed stood as Zia’s counsels to free her on bail.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and other senior party leaders were present in the courtroom while party activists rallied around the Supreme Court complex prompting an extra security vigil in the neighbourhood as the hearing was underway.

Zia’s imprisonment shook the country’s political scenario ahead of the general elections in December this year. 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 BNP was now exposed to a political wilderness after Zia’s conviction, which is likely to disqualify her for elections unless she could obtain a different direction from the Supreme Court.