N F Antara:
With the government likely to extend the suspension of BNP chief Khaleda Zia’s prison sentence for another six months, her family and lawyers are hopeful of getting the nod to take her abroad for treatment.
The Law Ministry has already made the recommendation, but Khaleda’s family members said they had yet to receive an order letter from the government.
The Law Ministry forwarded its opinion to the Home Ministry on Saturday, said Law Minister Anisul Huq.
The BNP chairperson has been on temporary release, subject to certain conditions, since March 25 last year.
The 76-year-old former prime minister had tested positive for Covid-19 in April. She later returned home on June 19 after remaining hospitalized for nearly two months for coronavirus infection and other complications.
BNP leader Barrister AM Mahbub Uddin Khokon, who is also a legal counsel for Khaleda, said the BNP learned of the suspension of the prison sentence from TV.
“Only if the conditions regarding going abroad are temporarily relaxed she can go abroad for advanced medical care,” he added.
As a citizen and as a former head of government, Khaleda had the right to go abroad for treatment, Khokon remarked.
Asked about Khaleda’s parole, he said: “The way she is out of jail right now, is it not a kind of parole?”
Khaleda’s family and lawyers would apply for humanitarian parole but only if she wanted it, he added.
“We will proceed if she agrees. We have only thought about the possibility of parole,” Khokon, a former lawmaker, said.
Khaleda’s family had applied to the government seeking permission to take her abroad for better treatment on May 5, but the Law Ministry rejected the plea, stating there was no legal provision that permitted a convict to go abroad for treatment.
To go abroad, the only option Khaleda has is to seek presidential clemency by admitting her crimes. The BNP, however, maintained that she had no reason to do so as she was innocent.
Meanwhile, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on Sunday said: “We do not know anything about the parole issue. However, the government may allow Khaleda Zia to go overseas for treatment on humanitarian grounds.”
“We are waiting for the government’s response on that matter; the family will think of alternatives afterwards,” he added.
BNP Standing Committee Member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said Khaleda was not getting follow-up care for the treatments she had received abroad earlier. “That is why it is important that she goes abroad for advanced treatment.”
The government was only barring Khaleda from going overseas due to political reasons, he opined.
According to BNP insider sources, Khaleda is adamant about not applying for parole as she deems it to be disrespectful.
The BNP chief’s lawyers say the government can commute her sentence under Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Barrister AKM Ehsanur Rahman, one of Khaleda’s legal counsels, told that she could go to any country for her treatment if the government allowed her to go abroad.
Khaleda Zia could be released unconditionally under Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, he added.
Meanwhile, Khaleda’s sister Selima Islam told that the family members are still hopeful that the government would consider their appeal to let Khaleda go overseas since the BNP chief had long been taking treatment abroad for her health issues.
“We would not have waited for so long if we wanted her to be released on parole. Khaleda Zia does not consider it to be respectful,” she added.
The government of its own accord can’t release someone on parole — the convict has to ask for it, according to Law Minister Anisul Huq.
If Khaleda Zia wanted to be taken abroad, she would have to go to jail and apply for it again, he said, adding that the approval of the plea would solely depend on the government’s discretion.
Amid the Covid-19 outbreak, the government freed Khaleda Zia from jail on conditions for six months through an executive order, suspending her sentences on March 25 last year.
She was released from the prison cell of BSMMU the same day and has been staying at her Gulshan residence since then.
On August 27, 2020, the government extended her release for six more months. It was extended again for another six months on March 15.
The conditions of her release are that the BNP chief would receive treatment at home and would not go abroad during this period, according to a circular issued by the Home Ministry last year.
On February 8, 2018, Khaleda Zia was sent to Old Dhaka Central Jail after a lower court sentenced her to five years’ imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case. The High Court later doubled her jail term.
The former prime minister was found guilty in another corruption case the same year.
However, the BNP maintains that both the cases are politically motivated.
The party has recently been campaigning to drum up public support to wage a strong movement and oust the current Awami League government, free Khaleda Zia from jail, and “restore” democracy in the country.