By SM Najmus Sakib
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) - The Bangladesh government released opposition leader Khaleda Zia from jail on Wednesday for six months.
The chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been released on humanitarian grounds to undergo medical treatment but will not be allowed to travel abroad.
The 74-year-old was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2018 over corruption allegations her lawyers claim are politically motivated.
The government, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, however, reject the allegations.
She was freed after the release order was handed over to the authority of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Hospital in Dhaka, where she had been under treatment for multiple ailments.
The opposition leader’s family members, party leaders and activists gathered to receive her at the hospital entrance.
Police, however, dispersed the crowd as gatherings are prohibited as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, the infection that emerged in China last December but has spread to 170 countries and territories within three months.
In Bangladesh, at least 39 people have tested positive while five people have died after contracting the virus, according to its Health Ministry.
BNP's vice-chairman Shamsuzzaman Dudu welcomed his leader's release.
"We repeatedly tried for justice but to no avail... she received bail in 30 of 32 cases against her," he told Anadolu Agency. "Her release on health grounds, however, is welcoming, considering the changing global scenario due to the coronavirus."
Dudu said that he had requested party workers not to gather outside the hospital.
"Some people, including party men gathered because they were emotional and wanted to see their beloved leader after so long," he said.
Zia is the widow of assassinated former Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rahman.