DHAKA – Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia, who was sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday by a special court over corruption charges, appealed for calm in the country following the verdict.
Zia asked “countrymen to have patience” and “urged all to respect the law,” Zia’s lawyer Masud Ahmed told reporters after the verdict.
“We will file an appeal against the verdict next week,” Masud added.
Masud called the case against Zia a political trial and said the 632-page ruling was full of contradictions.
The 72-year-old politician was taken to the old central jail in Dhaka after the court found her guilty of misappropriation of 21 million takas (around $252,000) from an orphanage trust.
The court also sentenced Khaleda Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, vice president of BNP, and four others to 10 years in jail for their role in the same case.
Thousands of Zia’s supporters had gathered outside the court to hear the verdict amid a heavy deployment of security forces, who used tear gas to disperse them.
BNP’s joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said the sentence was a “blueprint to destroy Begum Khaleda Zia,”adding that the “people of Bangladesh will reject this verdict.”
Zia, who headed the Bangladesh government twice (1991-1996; 2001-2006), has repeatedly pleaded not-guilty and claimed she was a victim of political witch hunt, masterminded by rival and current prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
Although Zia has been named in 13 cases of corruption, violence and sedition, and has put under house arrest several times this is the first sentence against the BNP leader.
The BNP – currently absent from the parliament – boycotted the last general elections in 2014 after the government, led by Hasina of the Awami League, did away with the system of an interim government, which over the last few decades supervised elections in the country.
The BNP and the Awami League have alternately shared power in the country since 1991, except for a brief period of military rule between 2006 and 2008.