Former Bangladesh PM Khaleda Zia gets 5 years in jail for graft

A Dhaka court today sentenced former Bangladesh prime minister and leader of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, to five years in prison on charges of corruption.

Khaleda was given a shorter term while her son, Tarique Rahman, and four others were jailed for 10 years at the end of a case that lasted nearly 10 years.

Rahman, a senior party leader and an heir-apparent in the country's dynastic politics, lives in London. He was tried in absentia along with two others. Two defendants are behind bars.

''She was given a shorter term considering her health and social status,'' Judge Mohammad Akhteruzzaman said as he passed sentence in a packed courtroom.

Her lawyers said she planned to appeal against her conviction, and will mostly likely be freed on bail pending that process.

Khaleda Zia was taken to jail as thousands of supporters took to the streets of the capital to protest her innocence.

Khaleda, her son and aides were convicted of stealing 21 million taka ($248,154) in foreign donations received by an orphanage trust set up when she was last prime minister, from 2001 to 2006, lawyers said.

The conviction means that Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, will be barred from running in the next national elections scheduled for December.

Bangladesh law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years, but Huq noted that the final decision rests with the courts.

"It's up to the appeals court to decide whether she will be eligible to run," he said after the verdict.

Ruhul Kabir Rizbi, a close Zia aide, rejected the verdict, saying the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was looking for a way to weaken Zia politically.

Security forces were on high alert ahead of the verdict, fearing clashes with Zia's supporters.

Thousands of police and other security forces were patrolling the main cities and towns. In the capital Dhaka alone, about 10,000 police and paramilitary border force were out on the streets manning checkpoints. Traffic was light on usually clogged roads.

Thousands of her supporters poured onto the streets and surrounded Zia's motorcade as they chanted anti-government slogans and moved on by cordoning off the motorcade as it slowly progressed.

Thousands of supporters of the ruling Awami League party also took to the streets to show their support to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Zia's archrival.

The opposition has accused the government of arresting hundreds of supporters ahead of the verdict.

The leading Bengali-language daily Prothom Alo reported that some 1,200 leaders and activists have been arrested since Wednesday. Authorities have warned of tougher measures against any attempts of violence.

Zia faces more than 30 other charges ranging from corruption to sedition.

While Hasina and Zia ruled the country alternately since 1991, when democracy was restored, in the last election in 2014, Zia's party and other partners boycotted the election, making way for Hasina to return to power.