Bangladesh opposition leader Zia returns to jail

Bangladesh’s main opposition leader and Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia, center, looks on as she is escorted back to prison from a hospital visit in Dhaka on Thursday. — AFP

DHAKA — Bangladesh authorities on Thursday sent opposition leader Khaleda Zia back to jail after a month of treatment in hospital, an official said.

The move came just ahead of the official announcement of a general election on Dec. 23 which the 73-year-old Zia will almost certainly be excluded from because of the prison terms she is serving.

Chief Election Commissioner Nurul Huda said in a nationally broadcast speech that all preparations have been made for “fair” polls. The opposition has expressed fears that the election will not be democratic and has threatened protests.

“Voting will be held on Sunday Dec. 23,” Huda said, adding that nominations had to be submitted by Nov.19.

Earlier, hospital director Brigadier General Abdullah al Harun told reporters Zia had been cleared to go back to Dhaka Central Jail. “Her health has been in adequately stable condition.”

One of her aides, Zahid Hossain, alleged however that Zia’s doctors had not approved her return to jail.

Zia’s lawyers have previously accused the government of putting the health of the two-time former prime minister at risk by refusing her specialized care in prison.

Zia was jailed for five years in February for corruption and has since been held at the British colonial-era prison which was abandoned in 2016 but brought back into service to keep her.

She was taken to hospital last month when her condition deteriorated.

Her doctors say Zia cannot use her left hand because of severe arthritis. She is diabetic and also has problems with her neck and shoulder.

During her time in hospital, Zia was sentenced to seven years in jail in a new graft case while an appeal court doubled the term from the original case to 10 years.

Zia is now running out of time to make an appeal that could clear her to run in the election expected at the end of December.

Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party has condemned the cases as politically motivated to keep her out of an election showdown with current prime minister and archrival Sheikh Hasina.

BNP officials held talks with Hasina on their election demands which included releasing the party leader. Hasina rejected the demand.

The BNP boycotted the 2014 vote in which Hasina returned to power but is expected to contest the election this year. — AFP