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Tension Builds Again in Bangladesh as Opposition Leader's Arrest Warrant Is Upheld

Khaleda Zia faces an arrest warrant on two corruption charges, but didn't attend a hearing today, citing security concerns. The court will meet again on Thursday as violence continues in Bangladesh.

by Syed Tashfin Chowdhury
Mar 4 2015, 3:40pm

Security men sit at the entrance to Khaleda Zia’s office in Dhaka. Photo by A.M. Ahad/AP

A Dhaka court today upheld an arrest warrant against opposition leader and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson Khaleda Zia in two graft cases, as a political standoff and violence continues in Bangladesh.

The two-time former prime minister of the country did not show up at the hearing, citing security concerns. On Tuesday evening, the ongoing crisis was one of the many issues discussed during a two-hour long meeting between Zia and foreign diplomats at her office. Representatives of Australia, Canada, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, US, and others, were present.

On Wednesday morning, Zia's defense counsel Sanaullah Miah filed separate petitions before Judge Abu Ahmed Jamadar's court, seeking withdrawal of the February 25 arrest warrant. Miah hoped to uphold Zia's bail and also defer the hearings.

After today's hearing began at around 11.30am, Judge Jamadar neither accepted or rejected Miah's petitions, and stated that the order for Zia's arrest will remain effective. He fixed March 5 as the date for the next hearing in the cases.

Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) chief prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain told reporters that her lawyers have no right to file such petitions as the BNP chairperson has not turned up for the hearings.

Miah told VICE News: "We will decide on our next step following the hearing of petitions at the High Court on Thursday."

Then, the High Court is scheduled to hear a petition filed by Zia on January 28 seeking transfer of the cases to other courts and expressing "no confidence" in Judge Jamadar.

Related: Protesters take to the streets over atheist American blogger hacked to death in Dhaka. Read more here.

On Tuesday, Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, a senior lawyer and an adviser to Zia, told journalists: "If the government provides her proper security to appear before the court, and if they can also ensure she will be returned to her Gulshan office, then she may appear before it."

Hossain alleged that the proceedings might be a government trick to get Zia to leave her office, from where she has directing protests since January 6.

Then Zia called for mass demonstrations across the country and also demanded fresh elections after a disputed vote in 2014. She has been confined to her office in Dhaka's upmarket Gulshan area since January 5.

The ongoing violence since then has led to the deaths of more than 114 people across Bangladesh through arson attacks, clashes, and extrajudicial killings.

BNP and its lawyers maintain that the two graft cases against Zia are "politically motivated." In the two corruption cases filled by the ACC, Zia is charged with embezzling a total of $680,000 during her second tenure as the premier of the country in 2001-06.

Zia, along with three of her aides, is accused of misappropriating nearly $404,000 from the Zia Charitable Trust, named after her late husband and former president of the country Ziaur Rahman.

In the second case, Zia stands accused of leading a group of five people, including her eldest son Tarique Rahman, who is presently in the UK, for embezzling nearly $276,000 from the Zia Orphanage Trust, also set up in Rahman's memory. If found guilty, Zia can be jailed for life.

As Zia failed to appear for hearings on several occasions, an arrest warrant was issued against her at the end of February. Yet the home ministry informed the media on March 3 that Gulshan police station had still to receive the arrest order. Gulshan Police has received another court order, however, mere hours after it was issued on Sunday, which allows them to search Zia's office.

It is feared that Zia's potential arrest may intensify violence in Bangladesh which is already reeling from an indefinite nationwide blockade and weeklong strikes.

Related: Chaos deepens in Bangladesh as arrest warrant is issued for ex-prime minister. Read more here.

Today, a few minutes after noon local time, three homemade bombs exploded outside the building in Dhaka's Bakshibazar district where the hearing for Zia's graft cases was going on. Police told VICE News that nobody was hurt by the blasts.

Later on, three people were injured in Hazaribagh in more explosions at a rally in support of the ruling party, the Awami League, which denounced the ongoing violence in the country.

At the meeting between Zia and diplomats on Tuesday night, they urged an end to the continuing violence. They also asked her to "encourage confidence-building measures, including the de-escalation of Bangladesh's political conflict in the interest of fostering safety, stability, growth, human rights and democracy" in the country, according to Australian High Commissioner Greg Wilcock who talked to reporters after the meeting.

The diplomats were led by US ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat who had termed Bangladesh's January 2014 elections "undeniably flawed" and called on the main political parties to "engage in constructive dialogue that leads to a more representative government."