Law will decide if Khaleda Zia can go abroad for medical treatment: Bangladesh PM Hasina

Dhaka, Nov 17 (PTI) Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday described jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia’s application to travel abroad for medical treatment as a “legal matter”, saying her government had done its part by conditionally releasing her from jail within the purview of her “executive authority”.

Zia, the 76-year-old chief of the main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is serving a 17-year jail term in two graft cases since February 2018. She has been suffering for two years now from arthritis, diabetes, kidney issues, lung ailments and eye problems.

On Monday, her family submitted an application to the government, seeking permission to take her abroad for advanced medical treatment.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Hasina said: “I have done my part (by arranging Zia’s conditional release) and the rest now is a legal matter.”

Hasina was asked about her opinion on the Zia family’s request for treatment abroad.

Zia, who has served three terms as prime minister, is now being treated at a private hospital, with family members and Opposition leaders’ saying her condition was “deteriorating everyday”.

A visibly annoyed Hasina asked the journalists to refresh their memories on the repeated “state-sponsored” attempts on her life, including a grisly 2004 grenade attack which she narrowly escaped while Zia was in power.

Hasina had survived the August 21, 2004 grenade attack, but it killed 24 of her then Opposition Awami League leaders and activists, including its women front chief and former Bangladesh President Zillur Rahman’s wife Ivy Rahman.

The 74-year old premier recalled that Zia at that time had called the incident an Awami League-staged attack as if “I carried the grenades in my vanity bag”.

“Yet we are not inhuman, whatever was possible within my executive authority I did that, by allowing her to stay home (instead of jail) and get all treatment facilities,” the premier said.

Hasina said Zia arranged one of the August 15 coup masterminds now fugitive ex-colonel Abdur Rashid to get elected to Parliament under a farcical election in February 1996 and allowed him to sit on the Opposition Leader’s seat in the House.

The 1975 coup killed Hasina’s father and Bangladesh’s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of his family members while Hasina and her sister survived the putsch as they were on a visit abroad.

“What more they expected from me after all these happenings… is it not enough what I have done (for Zia),” the premier said.

Hasina’s comments came hours after Law Minister Anisul Huq told parliament that the government would consider Zia’s application to go abroad for better treatment only if she returned to jail and made a fresh application as per legal obligation.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir earlier demanded the government immediately allow their critically ill party chief to go abroad for advanced treatment on humanitarian ground.

Khaleda Zia is so ill that I can’t describe it to you, he told a BNP-organised special prayer.

Zia is serving a 17-year jail term in two graft charges from February 8, 2018 while the government granted her a conditional release on humanitarian grounds at the onset of COVID-19 pandemic after her brother and sister met Hasina.

Zia’s elder son and acting BNP chief Tarique Rahman is in London to evade justice in several criminal and graft charges while a Dhaka court earlier declared him a fugitive .

Her younger sister Selima Islam earlier said doctors advised that Zia needed better treatment abroad as she was now kept at the critical care unit (CCU) of Evercare Hospital where she was re-admitted on November 13.

Her readmission came less than a week after she was released from the facility following 26 days of treatment for different ailments including kidney and lung problems.

Zia’s personal physician Zahid Hossain said doctors kept her at the CCU due to uncontrolled blood pressure, diabetes and fever.

Doctors now see no options other than advising her treatment abroad, Hossain said, though they were treating her in consultation with a specialist physician in Britain.

Earlier, Zia tested coronavirus positive on April 11 and was admitted to private Evercare Hospital on April 27 while breathing problems required her to be shifted to the CCU of the facility on May 3 but returned home after treatment.

Zia was sent to jail by a local court on charges of embezzling foreign donations meant for an orphanage, named after her slain husband and president Ziaur Rehman, during her premiership between 2001 and 2006.

Rehman, a military ruler-turned-politician, was the founder of the BNP.

Zia’s party claims both cases against her are politically motivated.

Zia has served thrice as the premier of Bangladesh since 1991. Her party suffered a miserable defeat in the 2018 elections bagging only six seats in the 300-seat parliament.