A Bangladesh court sentenced former prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia to seven years in prison for corruption on Monday (29), lawyers said, after she was jailed for five years in a separate case in February.
Khaleda’s two terms will run concurrently, meaning she will spend an extra two years in jail, and appear to put paid to any chance of contesting general elections in December.
But her lawyer said she would appeal against the conviction.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been in disarray ahead of the elections after Khaleda was jailed in February for stealing funds for an orphanage.
Earlier this month, a court sentenced Khaleda’s son and the acting chief of the BNP, Tarique Rahman, who lives in exile in London, to life in jail over a plot to assassinate prime minister Sheikh Hasina in 2004.
Khaleda, 73, and three aides were convicted on Monday of misappropriation of Tk 31.5 million ($371,550m) for a trust when she was last prime minister, from 2001 to 2006, state prosecutors said.
The judge of the special court said Khaleda abused her power to raise illegal funds for her personal trust, Mosharraf Hossain, a lawyer for the government, told reporters.
“The court believes she should face strict punishment as an example,” he said.
The BNP has urged the government to free Khaleda and called for a neutral caretaker government to be put in place before the vote. It called for a nationwide protest on Tuesday, rejecting the judgment as “state-sponsored”.
“Our leader is the victim of political vendetta. This is a part of a plot to keep her and her family away from politics and elections,” said BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
Khaleda did not appear in court on Monday as she has been undergoing treatment in a hospital this month for arthritis and diabetes.
Last month, Khaleda said there was “no justice” as she appeared before the special court, which was set up inside the prison to fast-track her trial.
“Madam has been deprived of justice. We will appeal against the verdict,” defence lawyer Sanaullah Mia told Reuters.
Hasina and Khaleda 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 was boycotted by the BNP.