DHAKA – Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia was given a short reprieve on Sunday, with a court postponing a decision on whether to halt her embezzlement trial that could see her jailed for life if convicted.
The former two-time prime minister lodged a last-minute legal bid to try to stop the trial which had been scheduled to start on Monday, after she was indicted on charges of embezzling more than $650,000. The High Court in Dhaka had been expected to rule Sunday on whether the trial should proceed in a separate court. But instead it said it would announce its decision on Wednesday.
“We expected an order today. But the court heard arguments of both sides and has now set Wednesday for an order,” deputy attorney general Mohammad Salim told AFP. Zia's lawyers have called the charges politically motivated, aimed at keeping her out of politics and destroying her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has vowed to topple the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Zia was indicted just weeks after Hasina was re-elected in a January 5 general election which the centre-right BNP and its 18 allies boycotted and denounced as a farce. Police detained thousands of opposition officials and supporters and charged many more during and after the election, which was the bloodiest in the country's short history.
Zia's lawyers argued in the High Court that she has been charged unlawfully and sought a court order to stop the trial, which was set to start in a special anti-corruption court in Dhaka. The anti-corruption court was now likely to delay the trial until the High Court gave its ruling, according to lawyers. But defence lawyer Moudud Ahmed said he would still need to formally seek a stay on Monday of the trial.