It’s useless to threaten me with jail Says Khaleda, accuses govt of ‘trying to use court’ to keep her away from politics, election

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BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday accused the government of trying to use court to keep her away from politics and elections, and clear the way for holding a lopsided election again like the one in 2014.

“I am ready to face any situation. It is useless to threaten me with imprisonment. I will not bow down. I will not retreat from the struggle for establishing people’s rights. People are being deprived of their rights,” she said at a press conference at her Gulshan office a day before a Dhaka court is set to deliver verdict in a graft case against her.

“They [the government]are trying to use court to keep me away from politics and elections, and also to alienate me from people. But I think they will not be able to score in an empty field and establish one-party rule.”

On January 25, the special court in Dhaka fixed February 8 for pronouncing the verdict in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case filed against Khaleda.

The BNP chief also alleged that the government is afraid to hold a free and fair election as it doesn’t have people’s support.

“They want to hold the [upcoming]election, staying in power and also keeping parliament functional so that people cannot cast their ballots and they can rig the polls.”

The BNP and most other political parties boycotted the January 5 elections in 2014, demanding that the polls be held under a non-partisan interim government. A total of 153 lawmakers were elected uncontested in the polls.

“They held a farcical election once and want to repeat it. With that intention, they have launched election campaign at the taxpayers’ expense a year before the election,” said Khaleda.

If convicted, the three-time prime minister may face up to life imprisonment and may be disqualified for contesting the parliamentary polls.

Referring to the graft case, Khaleda said “You know verdict of one such false case will be delivered tomorrow [today]. The ruling quarter is worried more than we are regarding the verdict. Through administrative orders, it is restricting people’s movement and their right to protest.”

She also gave details about the graft case and the formation of the Zia Orphanage Trust.

“Nothing will happen to me if justice prevails. I will be acquitted… But if the verdict is given to satisfy the ruling quarter, it would be considered as a stigma in history.”

The BNP chief alleged that even before the pronouncement of the verdict, ruling party leaders and activists had stated many times that she would be convicted.

“It seems that the people in power, not the judge, are deciding on the judgment… I want to say proudly that your Khaleda Zia has not committed any crime. I have not been involved in any corruption.”

In her 35 years of political career, the 72-year-old leader has never been convicted in a lawsuit.

Khaleda was kept in prison for about a year on corruption charges during the tenure of the last caretaker government. She had also been detained a few times during the mass movement against autocrat HM Ershad in the 1980s and in 1990.

Yesterday, she urged people to continue “the united and systematic movement” to restore democracy, establish their rights and help create an environment congenial to holding a free and fair election.

She also called upon the democratic forces and people from walks of life to forge a national unity to protect country’s independence and sovereignty.

“There are many people also in the Awami League who believe in democracy and people’s rights. They also think of future consequences. I make the same request to them as well,” mentioned Khaleda.

Issuing a note of caution, she urged people to stay alert against any conspiracy. “This country is ours. It is not property of any person or a party.”

“We do not want confrontation, chaos. We want peace. We want election. We still believe that good sense will prevail upon Awami League leaders. With that hope, I am urging the government to come to the path of peace and take an initiative to hold a free and fair election through talks.”

The BNP chief slammed the government for its “misdeeds and misrule”, and said the administration and law enforcers were pitted against people through politicisation and other means.

In her 40-minute emotional speech, Khaleda said she will not leave the country and people as long as she breathes.

“I request you to keep trust in me. I am with you though there will be attempts to alienate me from you,” she added.

None of the country’s private television channels broadcast the press conference live.

However, a press briefing by Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader was broadcast live by many television channels.