DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladesh court on Tuesday doubled to 10 years a jail term for former prime minister Khaleda Zia for graft, ruling out her chances of contesting an election in December, lawyers said.
Khaleda’s opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been in disarray since she was jailed in February, following a verdict it says was aimed at keeping the 73-year-old leader and her family out of politics.
“Khaleda Zia cannot participate in the election unless her verdict is scrapped,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters after the High Court decision.
Khaleda has denied any wrongdoing. Her party has urged the government to free Khaleda and called for a neutral caretaker government to be put in place before December’s vote.
On Monday, a court sentenced her to seven years in prison for misappropriation of 31.5 million taka ($371,550) from a trust in 2005 in a separate cause, prompting small, sporadic protests by BNP supporters.
Khaleda, who has been receiving treatment in hospital this month for arthritis and diabetes, did not appear in court on Tuesday and was not represented by a lawyer.
A lawyer for the former prime minister, however, said the ruling would be appealed and predicted Khaleda would be able to take part in the election.
“We will go for appeal and we believe she will get justice. She will not be ineligible to run for the election due to the verdict,” Sanaullah Mia told reporters.
The BNP rejected Tuesday’s judgment calling it “unprecedented” and politically motivated.
“This is an abnormal ruling which is a clear reflection of the government’s desire,” BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told reporters.
Tuesday’s appeal follows Khaleda, her son and aides being convicted in February of stealing 21 million taka ($253,000) in foreign donations for an orphanage trust set up when she was last prime minister, from 2001 to 2006.
A court this month sentenced Khaleda’s son, the party’s acting chief, Tarique Rahman, who lives in exile in London, to life in jail over a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2004.
The party has dismissed that accusation as part of a ploy aimed at keeping the family out of politics.
Khaleda and Hasina, both related to former national leaders, have dominated politics in poverty-stricken Bangladesh for more than two decades, nursing a long and bitter rivalry.
Hasina’s Awami League came to power for a second consecutive term in 2014 after a bloody parliamentary election that the BNP boycotted.
Critics have called her rule increasingly authoritarian, but the government has denied such accusations.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alison Williams