Khaleda’s imprisonment stirs global uproar, election uncertainty

Khaleda’s imprisonment stirs global uproar, election uncertainty



Shahid Islam in Toronto     19/2/2018

A missed opportunity often yields disaster and turns unmanageable, if not handled with care. The conviction and imprisonment of BNP chairperson and, three times PM of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, on February 8 could have led to instant chaos; which has been averted, thanks to Khaleda’s instruction to her followers not to become unruly, as well as the sagacity displayed by the law enforcers, so far.

Politics transformed

But the political landscape has been transformed, perhaps irretrievably. The BNP had already declared not to join the upcoming election unless Khaleda Zia is freed and allowed to participate in the polling; transforming the political ambiance into a dreaded uncertainty similar to the one witnessed prior to the 2014 election.

Khaleda Zia, who has been the chairperson of BNP for the last 37 years, is considered indispensable by her followers due to the entrenched culture of family rule that had characterised Bangladesh politics for over three decades now.

That filial legacy has been crushing on many counts. For instance, incumbent PM Sheikh Hasina also faced somewhat similar corruption charges; initiated by the same Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC), but her charges were quashed upon her coming to power in 2009, and, she too inherited the throne of her deceased father who was gunned down by a faction of the military on August 15, 1975.

Turbulence feared

However, the nation is heaving a sigh of relief, at least momentarily, that nothing too unpleasant had shattered the street peace as yet; to cause public discomfort and economic damages of a kind that often happened in the past. That having said, what tomorrow will beacon is very much an unknown. The comparative calmness could turn into a calamity any time; the signs of impending turbulences are very much visible in the horizon.

In coming days, BNP will look for few indications before catapulting its peaceful movement to the next, combative rung. Intentional delay in facilitating a deserved bail; mistreatment of the imprisoned former PM in captivity; deterioration of her health; mistreatment of peaceful demonstrators in the streets; can all combine, conflate, conflagrate and contribute to the degeneration of a peaceful movement for her freedom. Hence, the government will be wiser by not allowing the crisis to derail and retrograded by design, or by accident.

Global concern

Already observers within and outside the country are concerned about the venue where the former PM has been sheltered in captivity and, the manner in which her party loyalists are being treated in streets across the country.

Within an hour of her conviction, Khaleda was taken to the ghost-infested, abandoned Old Dhaka central jail at Najumuddin Road from Special Court-5 of Bakshibazar. Her lawyers and supporters said she was donned in prisoners’ garb and treated like a normal prisoner. On the Valentine’s Day, a team of doctors were not allowed to see her in the prison to take stock of her physical condition.

Meanwhile, BNP followers among the expatriates have already launched demonstrations in major cities of the world, while the UN — which tried unsuccessfully in 2014 to make the Bangladesh polling an inclusive one by bringing the abstaining BNP to the hasting — released a statement on the prospective deterioration of Bangladesh’s political ambiance following Khaleda’s arrest.

The UN Secretary-General`s deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said about the arrest of BNP loyalists across the country that, “We only recently received the report concerning the arrest and the subsequent events. We are monitoring what the events are on the ground and we will react accordingly.” Haq added: “We would, of course, be concerned about any reports of violence and, at this point, we call on all sides to maintain calm and we expect to have a further reaction after we have evaluated the situation further.”

Asked whether the conviction of Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman is the process to eradicate them from the general election, Haq said: “We are not ready to say anything on whether the verdict will have any effect on the election. We are analysing the situation.”

US’s concern

The USA, the lone existential superpower of the universe, had already expressed concerns about the conviction, arrest, and imprisonment of Khaleda Zia and urged Bangladesh to ensure ‘fair trial’ for the ex-prime minister who was sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment for what the BNP says a ‘retributive venture’ to break up BNP and censor Khaleda from contesting the upcoming election.

“We are aware of the conviction of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia, and encourage Bangladesh to the guarantee of a fair trial,” a State Department spokesperson said following the Dhaka Special Court’s verdict of five years’ imprisonment of Khaleda for alleged embezzlement of 21 million taka (about $250,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust, named after her deceased husband, Ziaur Rahman, who too was gunned down by a faction of the military in 1981.

The US spokesperson further added: “”We are concerned by reported arrests of opposition members. We encourage the government of Bangladesh to ensure fair trial guarantees for all of its individuals in Bangladesh.”  The statement opined:  “”We continue to call upon the Government of Bangladesh to provide the right to all individuals to freely express their political views, without fear of reprisal, and to hold elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people. We also call on members of society to act peacefully and responsibly. We stress that all sides must eschew violence; violence hinders democratic processes.”

Global media

Global media and observers have also expressed concerns as the verdict simultaneously sentenced Zia’s ‘fugitive’ elder son and BNP’s senior vice president, Tarique Rahman, who was tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison, along with four others.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) wrote: The judge also sentenced Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, and four others to 10 years in prison for involvement in the crime. All can appeal their convictions……. But Bangladesh law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years.” Quoting law minister Anisul Huq, the CBC said: “It’s up to the appeals court to decide whether she will be eligible to run (for election).”

The Hindu newspaper of India wrote: “The sentencing of former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years of rigorous imprisonment by a special judge’s court in Dhaka on charges of corruption has upended politics in an election year. Her arrest and possible disqualification from contesting — unless higher courts decide otherwise — has created a political crisis for her Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and equally a challenging opportunity for the ruling Awami League. The BNP is entirely dependent for leadership on the Zia family.”

As the crisis deepens, some of the BNP insiders are maintaining in private that they have prepared for all the eventualities; including the consequences of boycotting another polling which the BNP did in 1984, 1986, and in 2014.

That makes the nation of Bangladesh vulnerable to another major political storm which could derail all the development programs the ruling AL had undertaken, and swaggers about as its glorious achievements in rebuilding a nation that the AL had led to independence. Curiously, it was the deceased husband of Mrs. Zia, who had made the first public proclamation of independence on March 27, 1971.

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