A couple of factors are behind the government’s decision to release BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia from jail—continuous pleas from her family members and the ongoing pandemic of the deadly coronavirus, according to ruling Awami League insiders.
Khaleda Zia’s family members recently met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and requested her strongly for the release of the former prime minister, citing her health condition.
Law Minister Anisul Huq, while announcing the decision to release Khaleda on Tuesday (Mar 24), said that Khaleda’s conviction in a graft case had been stayed for six months on humanitarian grounds and considering her age.
The government suspended her sentence under Section 401 of the Criminal Code of Procedure. She will have to stay in Dhaka and receive her treatment here. She will not be permitted to leave the country.
Awami League insiders have said that the “BNP chairperson’s family members and party colleagues have been trying to persuade the government to release her from prison for quite some time, citing her need for treatment abroad.”
A member of Khaleda Zia’s family submitted an application to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) authorities in February, requesting them for a letter to the effect that she needed better treatment abroad, which was to be submitted in court.
When asked about the application, a senior presidium member of the Awami League, Kazi Zafrullah said: “The application which was submitted in February didn’t work. So, the BNP filed another application this month to the government requesting Khaleda Zia’s release.”
He also said that apart from the application, the recent coronavirus situation had persuaded the government to take the decision of releasing Khaleda.
Responding to a question, Barrister Mahbub Uddin Khokon a lawyer of the BNP, said: “We lawyers did not file the application. Khaleda Zia’s brother had submitted it.”
Sources at the law ministry said that in the beginning of March an application was submitted to the home ministry requesting Khaleda Zia’s release. Then the home ministry forwarded it to the law ministry. After that, several discussions among the government's top brass took place on the matter.
Responding to a question, an influential official of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s office said: “BNP leaders and also the family members of Khaleda Zia continuously urged us to release Khaleda. I think the decision is the outcome of their continuous appeals.”
A cabinet minister seeking anonymity told this correspondent he thought it was high time to release Khaleda Zia from prison due to the current situation in the country. “We do not want anything to happen to her while she is in the prison. If by chance she gets infected with Covid-19, then the government will be faced with trouble. So it’s better that she is released from prison now.”
Awami League presidium member Abdur Rahman said: “I think the decision to release Khaleda came after some thought was given to the matter.”
The BNP chief landed in jail after being sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case by a special court on Feb 8, 2017.
On Oct 30, 2018, the HC enhanced her punishment to 10 years in the case after dismissing her appeal.
On Oct 29, 2018, Khaleda Zia was convicted in the Zia Charitable Trust corruption case and sentenced to seven years' rigorous imprisonment by another special court in her absence.
She is currently under treatment at BSMMU.