Dhaka, Bangladesh – The jailing of the leader of Bangladesh’s main opposition party, currently serving a five-year sentence for fraud, is a “political” ploy without adequate evidence to justify prosecution, a senior UK lawyer has said.
Lord Alex Carlile QC, a member of the legal team of Khaleda Zia, chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), says he had “not seen any evidence whatsoever that could justify prosecuting Begum Khaleda Zia, let alone convicting her” following a review of all the “relevant” documents.
“I have seen absolutely nothing to suggest that this client has been involved in any fraud,” Lord Carlile told Al Jazeera.
“There is going to be an election at the end of year. It seems plain to me given that there is no evidence against her, there must be a reason for her to be arrested in this way and the only one that could be produced, beyond there having been a rather major and inexplicable mistake, is that the government doesn’t want her to be campaigning during the election.”
Zia, who served two terms as prime minister from 1991-96 and again from 2001-2006, was sentenced on February 8 to five years’ imprisonment over her alleged embezzlement of funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.
The court also convicted Tarique Rahman – Zia’s elder son – and four others of corruption, sentencing each to 10 years in jail.
The six were accused of embezzling over Tk 21 million ($252,000) of a donation to the trust.
The BNP has said its participation in Bangladesh’s upcoming elections, scheduled to be held in December, is reliant on the provision of a free and fair vote and Zia’s release.
Anisul Huq, Bangladesh’s law minister, refused to comment on Carlile’s allegations.
“I will not respond to that. It is a judgment of the court,” Huq said in response to an Al Jazeera request for a government response.
Huq has previously criticized the BNP for hiring Carlile, saying it was “sad” the opposition party had hired him as he “had given negative statements regarding our International Crimes Tribunal” and “provided legal aid to Jamaat-e-Islami party leaders”.
Bangladesh’s War Crime Tribunal, which was set up to punish those accused of committing atrocities during the country’s 1971 liberation war, has handed out capital punishments to a number of senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and the BNP.
Carlile, however, has denied representing Jamaat-e-Islami, an ally of the BNP, and said it was “slander” to suggest he had.