Bangladesh Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Opposition Leader Zia

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2016-03-30
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160330-BD-khaleda-620.jpg Bangladesh Nationalist Party Joint General Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed (at microphones) addresses a news conference in Dhaka, March 30, 2016.
Focus Bangla

Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET on 2016-03-30

Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia and 27 officials from her party are being falsely blamed for a deadly fire-bombing of a bus during anti-government protests last year, her lawyer said Wednesday after a court issued warrants for their arrests.

“Madam [Khaleda Zia] and the other leaders have no involvement with the arson attack. This is a false case,” Sanahullah Mia, the chief lawyer for Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), told BenarNews.

The warrants out for Zia and the others are a case of political harassment, Mia suggested. It is not the first time that an arrest warrant has been issued for the chairwoman of Bangladesh’s main opposition party.

“Madam [Khaleda Zia] is respectful to laws; she did not know about the case. We will fight in the court against the warrant order,” the lawyer added.

On Wednesday, a Dhaka court accepted criminal charges and issued warrants against Zia and the 27 other party leaders for their alleged roles in abetting an act of arson that killed one person and injured at least 20 others on Jan. 23, 2015, lawyers said. The act, which was the petrol-bombing of a bus in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area amid BNP-led protests, killed a man in his sixties, Nur Alam.

After Judge Kamrul Hossain Mollah issued the warrants, the Metropolitan Session Court was to send the warrant for Zia’s arrest to the police station in the Gulshan neighborhood of Dhaka where she lives, prosecutor Shah Alam Talukder told reporters at the courthouse.

Meanwhile, another court in Dhaka jailed BNP Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on arson charges stemming from a separate case, after he turned himself in to authorities on Wednesday, Mia said. Later in the day, the court granted him bail on health grounds, according to Mia.

Violent protests

The protests took place during a three-month economic blockade led by the BNP in early 2015. The anti-government protests started on Jan. 5 – the first anniversary of the ruling Awami League party’s victory in the 2014 general election, which the BNP-led opposition bloc boycotted.

The BNP stayed away from the polls because the ruling party had refused to allow a non-partisan caretaker administration to govern Bangladesh during the electoral season, as stipulated in the country’s constitution. The BNP had also demanded that snap polls be called under a caretaker government.

The protests turned violent. Buses were frequently fire-bombed or attacked with Molotov cocktails. At least 120 people were killed.

According to their charge sheets, four suspects who were arrested last year in connection with the Jan. 23 bus fire-bombing in Jatrabari confessed to police that they were following instructions from some BNP officials to “create anarchy” by committing such acts.

Political harassment: BNP leaders

Zia spent those three months holed up in her offices, where police had barricaded her inside to prevent her from leading the protests in public.

Apart from the new charges, she also faces five charges of corruption.

In February 2015, another court issued an arrest warrant for Zia and two other people accused in a pair of graft-related cases. But police did not her because, for reasons unknown, the warrant never reached the Gulshan police station.

Among the others named in Wednesday’s arrest warrants is BNP Joint General Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed, who, during a news conference, accused the government of using the warrants as a way to suppress the opposition.

Alamgir echoed the accusation after posting bail Wednesday.

“The government has been harassing desh netri [country leader] Khaleda Zia, me and other BNP leaders for political reasons,” Alamgir told reporters as he left the Dhaka Central Jail.

An earlier version of this report misidentified the speaker in the photo.

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