Family and lawyers thank government
The government has stayed BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's conviction for six months and decided to release her on humanitarian grounds considering her age.
However, she would be released on the conditions that she does not leave the country and she receives treatment at home, Law Minister Anisul Huq announced at a press briefing held at his Gulshan office in Dhaka on Tuesday.
The announcement came at a time when the country is in the clutches of coronavirus pandemic.
The BNP chief has been in jail since she was convicted in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case on February 8, 2018. She was also convicted in the Zia Charitable Trust graft case on October 29, 2018. Her party claims both cases were politically motivated.
However, an ailing Khaleda has been receiving treatment at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Hospital in the capital since April 1, 2019.
Anisul mentioned that Khaleda's younger brother Shamim Eskander had filed an application with the Home Ministry for her release with an executive order. The Law Ministry has sent a recommendation to the Home Ministry in this regard.
However, her brother had mentioned about continuing her treatment in London, Anisul added.
After filing the application with the Home Ministry, Shamim, Khaleda’s sister Selima Islam, and Selima’s husband Rafiqul Islam met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and informed her about the application for Khaleda’s release through an executive order from her, he said.
Khaleda has to follow the two conditions if granted release, the law minister said, adding: “We have taken the decision according to the prime minister's directives.”
The government suspended her sentence for six months according to the Sub-section 1 of the Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), he said.
“During this time Khaleda would have to stay at her Dhaka residence and receive treatment there,” he added.
“In addition, I have recommended her release on the condition that she does not go abroad,” the minister said.
“The recommendation was sent to the Home Ministry today [Tuesday],” Anisul said, adding the prime minister has given them directives in this regard and informed them to grant Khaleda's release with the two conditions following legal procedure.
Considering Khaleda's age, her conviction was stayed on humanitarian grounds, the minister said.
Although receiving treatment at home was mentioned as a condition, if need be, she can always get treatment from a hospital considering her physical condition, he said.
Anisul said the six-month period would start from the date the Home Ministry accepts the application filed by Khaleda's family.
Release after Home Ministry order
Advocate Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, a lawyer of Khaleda Zia, told Dhaka Tribune that after accepting the application, the Home Ministry would issue an order to the jail authority.
Upon receiving the order, the authority would take necessary steps to release her.
Barrister AM Mahbub Uddin Khokon, another lawyer of the BNP chief, thanked the government for taking the decision to release Khaleda Zia.
“Considering today's situation [Covid-19 pandemic] every life is vulnerable as well as her life,” he said.
Barrister Kaiser Kamal, another lawyer of Khaleda's lawyer panel, said according to the CrPC Section 401(1) the release has been demanded since the last six months. “Although it is late, the government has considered the application.”
"We will make our formal comments later because we haven't seen any paper yet,” the lawyer said, referring to the Home Ministry order.
Giving Dhaka Tribune his observation on the matter, Supreme Court lawyer Dr Shahdeen Malik said he welcomed the decision. “I hope the government will allow her to go abroad for better treatment.”
According to the CrPC Section 401(1), when any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the government may at any time without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced.
‘We are very happy’
Khaleda’s younger brother Shamim Iskander thanked the government for its decision to release her.
“We are very happy. We got to know about the decision on TV [of her release],” he said on Tuesday.
He said that her family members had requested the government to let them meet Khaleda on March 7.
“We are now contacting the lawyers and party senior leaders to discuss our next steps,” he said.
BNP’s steps soon to follow
Meanwhile, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said they will decide about Khaleda's treatment abroad, which is not allowed on the release order, after discussing the matter with Tarique Rahman and the party high command.
In his instant reaction over Khaleda’s release order, Fakhrul told reporters on Tuesday that they were worried and so were the people.
“We will take the next course of action following the acting chairman’s instruction and a meeting of the BNP standing committee,” he said.
On a separate note, he said: “One of the conditions on which the order for Khaleda’s release was passed is she cannot go abroad for treatment purposes.
“We will decide on the matter after talking to doctors treating Khaleda,” Fakhrul said.
The BNP leader urged the party leaders and activists not to crowd wherever she would be treated since there is always a chance of coronavirus spreading.
When journalists asked if BNP was considering the development as something positive, he said: “We will examine the matter.”