DHAKA: A Bangladesh court Tuesday doubled a jail term for imprisoned opposition leader Khaleda Zia from five to 10 years for what her supporters say are trumped-up corruption charges.
The decision came a day after Zia, arch-rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was handed a separate seven-year term for other graft charges.
The prosecution told AFP that Zia, 73, will serve the sentences concurrently. Her lawyers said the former prime minister would appeal the latest ruling in Bangladesh’s highest court. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which Zia has led from Dhaka Central Jail since being incarcerated in February, protested against the decision and vowed nationwide demonstrations later Tuesday.
The February corruption verdict triggered clashes between police and thousands of BNP loyalists.
The prosecution had demanded Zia serve more time for embezzling orphanage money – an appeal a higher court granted Tuesday.
“The high court has upheld the lower court verdict and raised the jail sentence from original five years to 10 years,” anti-corruption commission prosecutor Khurshid A Khan told AFP.
Zia has always denied the charges, and many others she faces, saying she is being pursued in court to prevent her challenging Hasina in a general election slated for December.
Zia boycotted the 2014 general election which Hasina won, sparking violence across the Muslim-majority democracy of 160 million.
The latest court ruling deals a crushing blow to the BNP and its embattled leader, who is running out of time to appeal the courts to let her run.
“She cannot contest the elections unless the conviction is set aside by a higher court,” Bangladesh’s attorney general Mahbubey Alam told AFP. Her lawyer, Sanaullah Mia, said Zia questioned whether her appeal would get a fair hearing in the Supreme Court. “She had already expressed fear that she would not receive justice, and then this happens. There is no justice,” he said.