A Bangladesh court on Thursday sentenced Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years in prison after convicting her of embezzling funds that were meant for an orphanage, The Daily Star reported.
Judge Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Court-5 in Dhaka sentenced Khaleda to rigorous imprisonment, and said she was given a short jail term considering her “health and social status”. Zia is now disqualified from contesting the upcoming national elections in December.
Zia and five others, including her son Tarique Rahman, were accused of embezzling 21 million takas (approximately Rs 1.6 crore) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust, which was established during her rule in 2001-2006.
The court has sentenced the other five people to 10 years in jail, Dhaka Tribune reported.
The prosecution has said the Zia Orphanage Trust and the Zia Charitable Trust, established in the name of her late husband and former President Ziaur Rahman, existed only on paper. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief and three aides have also been accused of embezzling 31.5 million takas (approximately Rs 2.5 crore) from the Zia Charitable Trust.
Earlier in the day, authorities had tightened security across many parts of the country. The Rapid Action Battalion and armed police were posted across Capital Dhaka, and the ruling Awami Leagues has said that its workers will be ready to assist the police if there is violence, according to PTI.
In a press conference ahead of the verdict, Zia had claimed she was implicated in a false case, and accused the ruling government of unleashing terror. “I believe the court will acquit me of all charges,” she said. “It is a false case and a tool to harass me and my family.” If the judgement is delivered to appease the ruling quarters, it will create a history of stigma, she added.
“This is an attempt to use the court against me, in an effort to sideline me from politics and elections and to isolate me from the people,” Zia was quoted as saying by AFP. “I am ready to face all outcomes. I am not afraid of jail or punishment. I am not going to bow down my head.”