Bangladesh’s ailing former prime minister Khaleda Zia suffered another setback on Tuesday when a court doubled her jail term to 10 years in a corruption case, piling pressure on the Opposition ahead of general elections.
The verdict comes a day after Zia, the leader of the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was sentenced to seven years in prison in another graft case.
A High Court bench comprising Justice Enayetur Rahim and Justice Mostafizur Rahman announced the verdict after accepting the Anti-Corruption Commission’s review petition to increase 73-year-old Zia’s imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case from five to 10 years, The Daily Star reported.
A Dhaka court sentenced Zia to five years in jail in the orphanage corruption case on February 8. Zia has been imprisoned at the former central jail since then.
No lawyer for Zia and other accused of the case was present in the court room.
The bench did not say anything about other convicts of the case as they did not file any appeal and they are absconding.
Zia cannot contest the next parliamentary elections following the High Court verdict, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told The Daily Star.
“This verdict means that Khaleda Zia will not be able to contest in the upcoming election,” the Anti-Corruption Commission’s lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan told reporters.
On Monday, she was sentenced for embezzling millions from the Zia Charitable Trust.
Zia faces dozens of separate charges related to violence and corruption that her lawyers insist are baseless. She had recently complained to the court that she was losing feeling in her hand and in a leg.
On October 6, she was taken to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hospital, where she is currently receiving treatment.
Tuesday’s verdict is crucial as it came ahead of the parliamentary elections in December. Zia’s party had boycotted the 2014 elections.
The BNP has vowed nationwide marches later Tuesday to protest the verdict.
The latest court ruling deals a crushing blow to Zia, who was hoping of running against incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in elections.
Zia was made vice-chairperson of the BNP in March 1983 after the assassination of her husband. She became chairperson of the party on May 10, 1984, a post she is holding till now.
In her 35 years of political career, Zia went to the jail several times.
During the 2007-2008 tenure of the army-backed caretaker government, she was in jail for about a year on charges of corruption.