The government is set to release ailing Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson and former prime minister Khaleda Zia from jail for six months.

She will be released for her age, on humanitarian grounds and on the condition that she will stay at her home and will not go abroad during the period, law minister Anisul Huq disclosed on Tuesday.

‘The government has decided to release her after staying her sentences in accordance with Section 401(1) of the Code of the Criminal Procedure showing generosity because of her age and on humanitarian grounds,’ the minister told reporters at an impromptu  press briefing at his Gulshan office in the capital in the afternoon.

The home ministry will now issue a notification to this effect, he said.

A home ministry official told New Age that a summary of the proposal to release Khaleda Zia was being sent to the prime minister for her approval.

‘She will take treatment staying at home,’ the law minister said, adding, ‘She can definitely go to hospitals if her condition demands.’

‘Prescribing any individual to go abroad in the current  situation will be suicidal for him or her,’ said the minister replying to a query whether or not she could go abroad.

He said that her family members applied to the government seeking her release and later her brother Shamim Eskandar, younger sister Selima Islam and Selima’s husband Rafiqul Islam met prime minister Sheikh Hasina and sought her release on executive order.

Against this backdrop, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir urged the countrymen and party leaders and activists to remain calm and not to gather at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University from where she is expected to be released or at her home in the present coronavirus situation to protect the party chief from infection and prevent the spread of the deadly virus infection.

He, after attending a party standing committee meeting in the evening at the party chair’s Gulshan office,  said that Khaleda was 75 years old and she was suffering from asthma which carried risks for coronavirus infection.

Expressing his emotion and relief at the news of Khaleda’s release, he said that he was at the same time afraid whether her release in this dreadful time of coronavirus outbreak would cause any harm to her.

He said that Khaleda was kept in jail by convicting her in a false case and the party struggled politically and legally for her release, which she deserved constitutionally and legally.

Fakhrul said that the matter of her conditional release was not clear to them as the family appealed for her release for advanced treatment.

He said that they had contacted Khaleda’s personal doctors and arranged her treatment at home but all would depend on Khaleda’s decision whether she wanted treatment at home or at hospital.

He hoped that Khaleda would be released timely though he or his party did not know right now what the government’s final decision over Khaleda’s release was.

The BNP always had been demanding her unconditional release while the ruling party leaders had been saying that they had nothing to do with the matter as it was a legal issue and suggested that Khaleda might be released if she sought presidential mercy confessing her guilt.

BNP insiders, quoting family members, said that Khaleda would be taken to her Gulshan residence after her release.

Lawyers said that it was the first instance in Bangladesh that a convicted person was being released by the executive branch after it stayed sentences in accordance with Section 401 (1) of the CrPC.     

Section 401(1) provides: ‘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.’

Earlier Khaleda’s brother Shamim Eskandar submitted an application to the home ministry seeking her unconditional release and later her application was forwarded to the law ministry for its opinions.

Khaleda’s brother demanded that the government release her after the High Court on February 28, 2020 once again rejected her bail application in the Zia Charitable Trust Case.

Party leaders and activists flocked to the BSMMU, where she is now under treatment, as the government’s decision to release Khaleda on conditions was aired by the media.

Earlier on December 12, 2019, the Appellate Division upheld the High Court order rejecting her bail on July 31, 2019. 

She prayed for the bail to facilitate her ‘advanced treatment’ in the United Kingdom for her chronic arthritis as prescribed by the medical board formed by the BSMMU.

Her lawyers said that she was now a crippled person as there had been no improvement of her health condition since she was shifted to the BSMMU on April 1, 2018.

On February 14, AL general secretary Obaidul Quader told reporters that BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul had phoned him for Khaleda’s release.

Asked on the same day, whether he got any response from Obaidul during their telephone conversation, Fakhrul urged all not to do politics over Khaleda’s health.

On February 18, 2020, Khaleda filed a fresh bail petition amid conflicting political statements by leaders of the ruling Awami League and the opposition BNP over her release.

They said that she had been in jail since February 8, 2018, the day when she was sentenced by a special court in Dhaka in a graft case which the BNP terms false and fabricated.

Khaleda’s chief counsel Khandker Mahbub Hossain told New Age that he had raised the demand for her release through executive channel one year ago.

‘Now the government has decided to release her to save its face and avoid further danger to her health as her health condition is seriously deteriorating,’ he said.

They would now face all the 34 cases against her legally, he also said.

Four of the cases, relating to GATCO, NIKO, Barapukhuria and Zia Orphanage Trust, were filed during the army-led emergency regime during 2007–08 while the remaining 29 cases were filed by the Awami League government.

Her lawyers pointed out that the 15 cases filed against Sheikh Hasina were either quashed or withdrawn after she assumed in power in 2009.

Khaleda was granted bail in all cases except the Zia Orphanage Trust and Zia Charitable Trust cases in which she was sentenced to varied terms of imprisonment.  

On February 8, 2018, a special judge’s court in Dhaka jailed Khaleda for five years in the Zia Orphanage Trust Case but the High Court on the Anti-Corruption Commission’s appeal doubled the sentence to 10 years.

On October 29, 2018, the same special court sentenced her to seven years in jail in the Zia Charitable Trust Case filed by the AL government in 2011.

Her appeals against the sentences are now pending.  

 Amnesty International in a message said, ‘We welcome the Bangladeshi authorities› decision to conditionally release the opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia from jail on humanitarian grounds.’

As she is suffering from a life-threatening illness, she must be given unrestricted access to the healthcare she needs, it added.

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