Opposition groups called for Khaleda Zia to be allowed to travel abroad for treatment.
Dhaka, Bangladesh – Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
Khaleda Zia, the 76-year-old leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (GNP) and a key rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for corruption.
She was banned by the court from traveling abroad after being convicted three years ago on charges of corruption – a conviction that was politically motivated according to the GDP.
The opposition leader was admitted to the critical care unit of a private hospital in the capital Dhaka earlier this month after her health condition “significantly worsened”.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the GDP, said on Tuesday that Bangladesh’s healthcare system had “no further treatment” for Zia and she needed “immediate treatment abroad”.
Zia, a three-time prime minister of the South Asian nation, suffers from liver disease, chronic kidney disease and a heart condition in addition to her pre-existing conditions of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, according to her personal physician Dr AZM Zahid Hossain.
Thousands of opposition activists have staged several rallies, rallies and hunger strikes to express their demands, with Secretary-General Alamgir warning to launch a campaign seeking to overthrow the Hasina-led government if Zia is not allowed to do not travel.
The government has instructed the police to remain on “red alert” across the country so that no individuals can create “chaos and undesirable situation”.
“The law will decide”
Prime Minister Hasina seemed unmoved by the demands, saying that the law of the land would decide whether Zia would be allowed to go abroad.
“I have done everything I can for Khaleda Zia,” Hasina said, adding that through her power she allowed Zia to serve her sentence at home instead of prison and receive the required treatment within the country.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the government granted Zia a temporary release from prison in March last year at the request of her family. But she still can not leave Bangladesh.
Justice Minister Anisul Huq said the government did not lack compassion for Zia.
“We understand her sentiment [BNP] some people and we are really thinking about making a decision about her treatment abroad. “We have to find out if legal aid allows such action,” he told Al Jazeera.
But GDP leaders and activists strongly believe Zia is a victim of Prime Minister Hasina’s “personal revenge”.
They have been referred to as the “Battling Begums” (Begum is a South Asian term referring to a high-ranking Muslim woman) because of their vicious political rivalry, as they have alternated power with metronomic regularity since 1991 when the Zia-led GDP came to power after the first elections after nearly a decade of military rule.
The Hasina-led Awami League (AL) overcame GDP in 1996. But Zia made a comeback in 2001.
The AL has not lost an election since coming to power in 2008. Subsequent elections, however, were marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of widespread vote-rigging.
Dhaka-based GDP activist Kamrul Ahsan Nomani said not allowing Zia to receive treatment abroad was “just an act of personal revenge” by Hasina.
“His [Zia] was convicted in a kangaroo court and now they say she can not be allowed to go overseas for treatment as there are legal obstacles. It’s just a joke. ”
“The true truth is that Begum Zia’s treatment abroad is not refused because there are legal problems. The whole country knows that it is being rejected because Prime Minister Hasina does not want it, “Nomani added.
Australian author and political commentator Faham Abdus Salam says refusing treatment to a 76-year-old critically ill woman is a “new low” for the current Bangladeshi administration.
“Like any third world dictator, Sheikh Hasina will lavishly reward loyalty and ruthlessly crush her opponents,” Salam told Al Jazeera.
He claimed that many senior leaders of the Awami League were in favor of allowing Zia to travel for treatment, “but they are genuinely afraid of Hasina’s revenge and will not say a word in public”.