Govt to release Khaleda Zia from prison conditionally amid shutdown over coronavirus threat

The government has decided to suspend the effectiveness of BNP chief Khaleda Zia’s sentences and release her from prison conditionally, citing “humanitarian reasons” amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Staff Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 24 March 2020, 10:22 AM
Updated : 24 March 2020, 08:25 PM

Khaleda will have to receive treatment at her Dhaka home and will not be allowed to travel abroad, Law Minister Anisul Huq said at a media briefing on Tuesday afternoon, explaining the key conditions for her freedom. Her sentences will remain suspended for six months.

"We have decided to release her on humanitarian grounds as per the instructions of the prime minister,” Anisul said. "She can receive treatment staying at her home but she cannot go abroad."

The conditions will come into effect when the home ministry releases her.

Khaleda has already served out 25 months behind bars. The decision of the suspension of her sentences comes during a worldwide crisis over the novel coronavirus outbreak which has led to quarantines, isolations, lockdowns and transport shutdowns across the globe.

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With 39 infected, four deaths and five recoveries as of Tuesday afternoon, Bangladesh, too, is on the verge of cutting all communications across the country. The country is retreating from public life with more and more people staying indoors.

Globally, confirmed coronavirus cases exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, with over 16,500 deaths linked to the virus.

Khaleda, who is ailing, had been receiving treatment in prison. Expressing concerns over Khaleda’s health amid ‘risks of coronavirus infection’, BNP lawyers demanded her release the day before.

Khaleda has been in prison since February 2018 after she was sentenced to a total of 17 years in two graft cases involving Zia Orphanage Trust and Zia Charitable Trust.

She was initially kept at Old Dhaka’s abandoned central prison, but later on Apr 1, 2019 she was moved to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University for treatment.

The law minister said Khaleda’s sentence has been suspended under Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code. A recommendation for her six-month freedom has been sent to the home ministry.

“It is not being said that she can’t receive treatment in a hospital. But getting admitted to hospital will depend on her condition. So we mentioned that she can receive treatment at home,” Anisul said.

“She is already admitted in the best hospital in Bangladesh. She cannot go abroad. Under these difficult circumstances, sending someone abroad is like telling someone to commit suicide,” he said. 

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WAIT FOR PMO’S NOD

The home ministry will send a summary to the Prime Minister’s Office for approval.

Once it is cleared, the ministry will follow the instructions and send the papers to the prisons for Khaleda’s release.

Mahbubul Islam, the jailor of Dhaka Central Jail, said in the afternoon that they had not received the order for her release.

“We’ve received instructions from the law ministry,” home ministry spokesperson Sharif Ahmed Apu said.

Md Shahiduzzaman, secretary to the Security Services Division under the home ministry, said in the evening they have prepared the summary and was waiting for Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal to sign it before they send it to the PMO.

He said it appeared the entire process will be complete on Wednesday.

An official at the ministry, requesting anonymity, said Minister Kamal went to his village home in Dohar on Tuesday.

AZM Jahid Hossain, one of the BNP leaders who gathered at the BSMMU, said they had talked to the police and prison authorities, but none could confirm the time of Khaleda’s release.

FEARS OVER KHALEDA’S HEALTH

The BNP is also concerned about the health risks the outbreak poses to Khaleda.

“We have of course become emotional. We are somewhat relieved. But we are also afraid of the time of her release. May she be safe,” Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told a press conference following a meeting of the policymaking National Standing Committee.       

“She is very ill. She is suffering from asthma as well as diabetes and arthritis. These become big problems if someone contracts the virus. Such patients are most vulnerable,” he pointed out.   

He asked the leaders and activists to stay away from her instead of trying to see her, being emotional.

“Please do not crowd outside the hospital and her home. It will increase her health risk,” he said.

Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi went to the BSMMU. Around 50 of her supporters also gathered there.

“You must focus on measures to save your own lives. Don’t crowd here needlessly. I request the leaders and activists to be in isolation and not to crowd here,” Rizvi told them.

He also said the party would make arrangements to keep Khaleda safe at her home following the instructions of the World Health Organization and doctors.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher