Convicted Awami League MP leaves country for medical treatment

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2022.05.03
Dhaka
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Convicted Awami League MP leaves country for medical treatment Haji Mohammad Salim (center), a parliamentary candidate, waves to supporters as he campaigns through the streets of Dhaka, Jan. 2, 2014.
AP

Bangladeshi opposition activists are crying foul after a convicted lawmaker from the ruling party was permitted to travel for medical treatment abroad, despite their years-long petitions to allow their leader, Khaleda Zia, to do the same having repeatedly been blocked.

Awami League member Haji Mohammad Salim, a three-time MP, departed from Dhaka for treatment in Bangkok on April 30, his lawyer confirmed, although a High Court had ordered that he surrender to serve a 10-year sentence over his conviction for graft.

“My client has gone to Bangkok for treatment, and will return home on May 6. He told me that he would surrender to the trial court on May 17 or 18,” attorney M. Syed Ahmed Raza told BenarNews. “He was not bound to seek court permission to go abroad.”

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party secretary general, questioned the action.

“The government allowed Haji Selim to leave the country while they turned down the application of our leader and three-time prime minister, Khaleda Zia, to seek better medical treatment abroad,” Alamgir said. “This is testimony that the conviction of Begum Khaleda Zia was politically motivated and aimed at keeping her away from politics.”

Zia was convicted in separate trials on graft charges in February and October 2018 and sentenced to 17 years. She was taken to the Old Dhaka Central Jail following her Feb. 8, 2018, conviction.

The jail’s only prisoner, Zia was incarcerated there until March 25, 2020, when the court suspended her sentence in response to her family’s petition that she be released to home confinement over health concerns. Since then, the government has turned down requests that she leave the country for advanced medical care.

On Tuesday, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the government was not aware of Selim’s whereabouts.

“I cannot remember the time when Haji Salim came to my office and informed me that he would surrender to the trial court and seek a bail petition afterward. But we do not know whether he left the country,” Khan told BenarNews.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a graft complaint against Salim in 2007. A year later, a Dhaka court sentenced him to 13 years and fined him 2 million taka (U.S. $23,179).

Following appeals, the High Court in early 2021 cut the sentence to 10 years and the fine to 1 million taka ($11,573). The final verdict, published on Feb. 10, 2022, ordered Salim to surrender to authorities within 30 days. He has yet to serve a single day of his prison sentence.

Comparing cases

Khurshid Alam, a lawyer with the ACC, compared the cases of Salim and Zia.

“The case of Haji Salim is more grievous. He must surrender to the trial court in 30 days. Instead, he secretly left the country. This is a violation of the law of the land,” Alam told BenarNews.

“A convicted person in no way should leave the country. How he left the country is our question,” he told BenarNews. “The government has not allowed Khaleda Zia to leave the country.”

Badiul Alam Majumder, a civil society leader, raised similar concerns.

“Everyone is equal before the law. The law cannot vary from person to person,” he told BenarNews. “I think those who aided Salim to leave the country must be punished so that nobody would dare to do the same in the future.”

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