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Uncertainty Grips Bangladesh on Eve of Verdict in Opposition Leader’s Trial

Jesmin Papri
Dhaka
2018-02-07
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Bangladesh security personnel stand guard outside a Dhaka court trying a corruption case against opposition leader Khaleda Zia, Dec. 28, 2017.
Bangladesh security personnel stand guard outside a Dhaka court trying a corruption case against opposition leader Khaleda Zia, Dec. 28, 2017.
AFP

Bangladesh’s government ordered paramilitary units deployed nationwide Wednesday as the country braced for potential violence on the eve of a verdict that will decide opposition leader Khaleda Zia’s fate in a graft case and may disqualify her from looming elections.

A defiant Zia proclaimed her innocence Wednesday and accused the government of her bitter rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, of using the courts to make her ineligible to run again for prime minister in December or early next year.

“The court has been misused to keep me aloof from politics and disqualified in the next elections,” the 72-year-old former three-time prime minister and chairwoman of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) told a news conference in Dhaka.

“I have not been involved in any corrupt practices. If justice was present, I would be cleared.”

She claimed authorities had forged documents to bolster the charges against her. The country’s anti-corruption commission filed the charges in 2008, during the rule of a military-backed interim government.

“Being fearful of the people’s protest, this illegitimate government has been searching for a nasty path,” she told the packed press conference. “They have established a reign of terror.”

Zia could face up to life in prison if found guilty on charges of embezzling 21 million takas (about U.S. $252,000) in foreign donations to an orphanage trust in her family’s name, legal experts said.

“Being fearful of the people’s protest, this illegitimate government has been searching for a nasty path,” she told the packed press conference. “They have established a reign of terror.”

Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia waves at her supporters during a news conference in Dhaka, Feb. 7 2018. [BenarNews]
Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia waves at her supporters during a news conference in Dhaka, Feb. 7 2018. [BenarNews]

 

The opposition leader made the allegations a day before a local court was set to issue a ruling in her case that, authorities said, could lead to violence.

“BGB members have been deployed in Dhaka and 26 districts,” Mohsin Reza, a spokesman for the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) told BenarNews on Thursday.

Officials said they had also set up security checkpoints in strategic areas in the capital.

On Tuesday, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned street protests, saying it feared that opposition parties could “create anarchy” if Zia were convicted.

More than 2,500 BNP activists have been arrested nationwide since Jan. 30, according to police statistics, in what opposition leaders described as a crackdown ahead of the court ruling against Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, who lives in exile in London, and four others.

“Security measures have been beefed up,” Abu Jafar, a deputy commissioner of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police, in western Bangladesh, told BenarNews. “The houses of those who had been involved in previous violent activities are being searched.”

Awami League reacts

After Zia’s news conference, the ruling party’s general secretary, Obaidul Quader, told reporters that the opposition leader was trying to cover up her misdeeds.

“Should the court not try a politician if she or he is involved in corruption or commits an offence?” the Awami League official said.

Asaduzzaman Mia, commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), warned on Wednesday that violent protests following the judgment would be dealt with seriously.

“Any political activity without impeding vehicular movement and causing public sufferings will not be obstructed,” Mia told reporters. “But stringent measures will follow in case anyone is involved in violent activities.”

A poster urging a Bangladeshi court to hand down the maximum penalty for opposition leader Khaleda Zia is seen in Dhaka, Feb. 5, 2018. [Kamran Reza Chowdhury/BenarNews]
A poster urging a Bangladeshi court to hand down the maximum penalty for opposition leader Khaleda Zia is seen in Dhaka, Feb. 5, 2018. [Kamran Reza Chowdhury/BenarNews]

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