A Dhaka court Tuesday granted bail to Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia after she turned herself to face an arson charge stemming from violent anti-government protests last year.
Zia, a three-time prime minister, surrendered to an arrest warrant issued on March 30 over her alleged role in abetting a deadly firebombing of a bus in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area during protests in January 2015.
“This is unbelievable that she ordered people killed; these are politically motivated cases. Madam was confined to her office in Gulshan when the arson attack took place,” Mahbub Uddin Khokon, Zia’s lawyer, told BenarNews, referring to the petrol-bombing of the bus, which killed one passenger and injured at least 27 other people.
Zia also appeared in separate courts on Tuesday to answer charges in several other cases, including cases of alleged sedition and corruption, and was given bail in them as well, lawyers said. One of the corruption cases dates to 2007.
In May 2015, police filed a charge sheet against Zia and 37 others, including 27 leaders of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), in connection with the fire-bombing in Jatraburi.
Zia was declared an abettor of the attack because, on Jan. 4, 2015, she announced an indefinite economic blockade while demanding the government to resign and hold fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government. The strike turned violent and at least 120 people were killed over the course of the three-month blockade.
The protests started around the first anniversary of the 2014 general election, which the BNP boycotted because the incumbent Awami League party had refused to let a caretaker administration govern the country during the electoral season – as stipulated in Bangladesh’s constitution.
At least political observer called the warrant for her arrest a government ploy to pressure Zia and her party.
Ataur Rahman, a teacher of political science at Dhaka University and former president of Bangladesh Political Science Alumni Association, described the warrant and granting of bail as “basically a cat-and-mouse game of the government.”
“The BNP has become very weak as an organization. The ruling party has established absolute control over the country. So, it is a government ploy to keep the opposition under pressure through the courts,” Rahman told BenarNews.
Despite the charges against her, it was unlikely that Zia would be arrested because her popularity would increase if that happened, Rahman said.
“So, the government would not risk such move. Again, the BNP has no option left other than joining the next general election in 2019. The ruling party would not mind a free Khaleda Zia as the election is three years away,” he added.