Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been sentenced to five years in jail after she was convicted of embezzlement. There were clashes between police and her supporters outside the court.
A judge announced the verdict to the court in Dhaka on Thursday, sentencing Zia to five years in jail for the misappropriation of funds.
Zia, who claims the accusations were politically motivated, might now be barred from a general election planned for December.
Judge Mohammad Akhteruzzaman said he was satisfied that the court had proved the charges against Zia, and said the sentence had been made more lenient than it would have been otherwise. "Considering her social and physical status, Zia has been sentenced to five years in jail," he said.
The 72-year-old politician, who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was convicted for transferring 21 million taka ($252,200; 206,000 euros) from a charity, the Zia Orphanage Trust, to her personal account.
Prosecution motives questioned
Five co-defendants — her son Tarique Rahman and four aides — were given longer sentences of 10 years each in prison. Tarique Rahman lives in exile in London.
According to Bangladesh law, individuals imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years.
Tthe BNP told DW the ruling was politically motivated. "This case was totally fabricated, the main intention of this case was to malign Khaleda Zia and bar her from participating in the next election," Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir, Secretary General of the BNP party, said. "This is the result of the political vengeance of the current prime minister. Unfortunately, she has used the courts for this purpose.
"This case had no basis whatsoever, a totally false, fabricated and concocted case. The main evidence for this case is totally created."
However, Law Minister Anisul Huq said that the decision showed that no one was above the law, adding that the BNP's claim the trial had been staged was "baseless."
"That is what has been proved during the rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. We have given all the accused the legal freedom to contest the case and, after having looked into the evidence, the court has given a judgment. So I think the rule of law has only been established."
Unrest despite demo ban
Police used tear gas against protesters who rallied in the streets, having defied an official ban on demonstrations. Some 3,500 opposition activists were detained in a sweep by security forces before the verdict was delivered, and ferry and bus services into the capital, Dhaka, were suspended.
"Security has been ramped up in the capital and elsewhere in the country to thwart any untoward incidents," Dhaka Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia told reporters.
Zia becomes the second former head of government in Bangladesh to be convicted of corruption, along with former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Both Zia and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina helped lead a popular uprising that foced Ershad, who took power as head of the army, to resign in 1990.
Zia entered politics in the 1980s after her husband Ziaur Rahman was killed in an abortive coup. She had two periods of office, from 1991 to 1996 — when the illicit transfer of funds was said to have taken place — and from 2001 to 2006.
Ziaur Rahman was president of Bangladesh from 1977 to 1981, having come to power as head of the country's military at a time of martial law.
rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)