• Sunday, Feb 23, 2020
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Will Khaleda Zia be released?

  • Published at 11:46 pm February 14th, 2020
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia
File photo: BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia being moved from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University to the old central jail on November 8, 2018 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

BNP and her family have been demanding her release from jail so she can go abroad for treatment

Family members and party colleagues of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia have been trying to persuade the government to release her from prison for quite some while now, citing her need for treatment abroad. But it doesn’t seem to be working. 

The BNP chief was sent to jail on February 8, 2018, after she was sentenced to a five-year imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case. Due to health issues, she has been undergoing treatment at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) since April 1 last year. 

Khaleda’s family members recently submitted an application to the BSMMU authorities, requesting a letter recommending treatment abroad for her, to be submitted before a court.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune on Thursday, BSMMU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Kanak Kanti Barua confirmed that the hospital had received the application from Khaleda’s family on Tuesday.

“They urged ‘better treatment’ for the BNP chairperson. We will discuss this matter and make a decision,” Prof Barua added.

However, high-ups in the government, who are aware of the development, said the hospital would likely not take the request under consideration. 

On Tuesday, after visiting Khaleda at BSMMU, her sister Selima Islam made a humanitarian call to the government to release the former prime minister from jail, so that she could go abroad for treatment, UNB reported. 

“Her physical condition is now very bad. She’s suffering from respiratory problems, and she’s almost unable to speak,” Selima told reporters at BSMMU.  

According to the top brass of the government and the ruling Awami League, the only option left for Khaleda and the BNP is to seek the president’s mercy. 

Only if the president allows it, Khaleda may be able to go abroad for treatment, sources said.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Awami League Presidium Member Abdur Rahman said Khaleda Zia’s case was a matter for the judiciary to consider.

“If she decides to seek the president’s mercy, then it’s up to him,” Rahman added.

On Wednesday, the BNP announced that its activists and supporters would bring out a protest rally in Dhaka today seeking Khaleda’s release from jail, as part of the party’s countrywide demonstration program, UNB reported.

Making the announcement, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the procession would begin from the party’s Nayapaltan central office at 2pm and end at the National Press Club area.

Khaleda not interested? 

Sources in the BNP said Khaleda Zia’s family members – elder sister Selima Islam, younger brother Sayeed Iskander, and daughter-in-law Sharmila Rahman Sithi – were adamant about getting advanced treatment for her. 

The sources also said they were discussing the matter with high officials in the government. 

However, Khaleda Zia personally is not interested in seeking early release or the president’s mercy in order to go abroad for treatment. 

More than two weeks ago, Selima said the family was thinking about submitting a “special application” to the government for her sister’s release. 

However, on Tuesday, when asked whether any formal application had been filed with the government, Selima replied in the negative. 

BNP Standing Committee member Nazrul Islam Khan recently said the party too had communicated with the government regarding Khaleda’s treatment.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday, he said: “The party chief’s family members have taken measures for her better treatment.”

Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, at a party event in Tungipara, Gopalganj on Thursday, said the government had not received any application from Khaleda’s family. 

“I spoke with the home minister. They have not filed a formal application,” he said.

Even if they do, the application will not be taken into consideration until they cite rational reasons behind their demand that satisfy the government, he added. 

Sources in the government said it was likely that the family had not filed an application yet as they had not received any assurance from the government regarding its acceptance. 

A missed opportunity?

This correspondent spoke to more than eight ministers and Awami League leaders regarding Khaleda Zia’s situation. They said her health issues were not a high priority for the government right now.

“Khaleda Zia is a convicted criminal. Only the court can make a decision about her treatment,” said a presidium member of the ruling party.

However, an influential member of the cabinet said the BNP had a brief chance to get Khaleda out of jail, but could not utilize it. 

Requesting anonymity, the cabinet member told Dhaka Tribune: “In October [in 2018], before the general election, there was a possibility of Khaleda getting released for treatment abroad. A discussion took place between the government and the BNP. The government high-ups then assured the BNP leadership that if Khaleda wanted parole, she would get it. But the BNP leaders failed to capitalize on it.

“Now, circumstances have changed. There’s no pressure on the Awami League as far as Khaleda’s release is concerned. Now, she can get released from jail only if she seeks the president’s mercy and if he considers it,” he added. 

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Awami League Joint Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said the ruling party also wanted the best treatment for Khaleda. 

“We heard about Khaleda Zia’s family filing an application with the BSMMU authorities. But the hospital has no authority on this issue; it’s a matter for the court and prison. If they want parole for Khaleda, they should move the proper authority.”