The government has turned down the plea from Khaleda Zia's family for allowing her to go abroad for better treatment, citing legal grounds.
"According to the existing law, there is no scope for granting the application to let BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia go abroad," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters yesterday.
The law ministry gave this opinion after reviewing for the second time Section-401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) under which Khaleda's jail sentence was suspended, he pointed out.
The home boss had earlier said the government would actively consider the plea on humanitarian grounds.
"The law ministry has informed us that Khaleda Zia cannot go abroad unless her sentence is commuted. In the light of this, the application of Khaleda Zia's family will not be granted," Asaduzzaman said at his Secretariat office yesterday.
He also said they would soon inform the BNP chief's family of their decision.
The minister mentioned that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave Khaleda the opportunity to receive treatment at home at her convenience following suspension of her sentence on humanitarian grounds.
Khaleda later got infected with Covid-19 and was admitted to Evercare Hospital in the capital, he said.
Her brother Shamim Eskander then made a request for letting her go abroad for better treatment. "We sent the application to the law ministry for its opinion," he added.
Sources close to the top brass of the government said that though the law ministry rejected the request, the highest authority is still considering it positively on humanitarian grounds.
There is still a chance that the government will allow Khaleda to travel abroad for better treatment, the sources told this newspaper.
Earlier on May 5, Shamim met the home minister at his Dhanmondi residence and handed him the application.
The home boss later told reporters that the prime minister is very considerate on such issues, and the request was being considered positively.
WHAT LAW MINISTER SAYS
Talking to this newspaper yesterday afternoon, Law Minister Anisul Huq said, "I gave the opinion that Khaleda Zia's jail sentence has been suspended as per Section-401 of the CrPC on condition that she cannot go abroad. Now there is no scope for relaxing the condition. She cannot go abroad for treatment."
He further said the jail sentence was suspended after her family submitted an application in this regard.
"The application was disposed of the moment the government granted it on the condition that she cannot go abroad. And therefore, there is no scope for the government to change its decision," observed Anisul, also a criminal law expert.
Section-401 of the CrPC says, "When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the government may at any time without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his/her sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he/she has been sentenced."
In reply to a query, the minister said he didn't know whether any convicted person was allowed to go abroad in the past for any purpose.
Earlier in the morning, the law minister sent the opinion to the home ministry through an official of his ministry.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the government on March 25 last year released Khaleda, suspending her jail sentence for six months. Later, the suspension was extended twice and separate notifications were issued to that effect.
The notifications said Khaleda will receive treatment at home and she cannot go abroad.
The BNP chief landed in jail on February 8, 2018, after a special court sentenced her to five years in prison in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case. On October 30, 2018, the High Court enhanced her punishment to 10 years.
WHAT LAWYERS SAY
Contacted, Khaleda's lawyer Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said the law ministry's view goes against the law.
The government will be held responsible if something bad happens to Khaleda, he said.
About the government decision, Mahbub said, "It is completely illegal. There is no provision in the existing law which bars a convicted person from going abroad."
Meanwhile, Khurshid Alam Khan, counsel for the Anti-Corruption Commission, welcomed the government decision.
He said the government doesn't have the authority to allow any convicted person to go abroad.
The BNP has voiced anger and disappointment at the government's rejection of the plea for permitting the party chief to go abroad for better treatment.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the government had pardoned a convict, who was sentenced to death, and allowed the person to go abroad but it didn't show any humane gesture or decency to Khaleda.
The reasons that the government cited for rejecting the plea are illogical, he told reporters after visiting Khaleda at Evercare Hospital in the capital.
Asked about Khaleda's health, Fakhrul said her condition was better yesterday. She had no difficulties in breathing without oxygen support, which was a sign of improvement.
Talking to this newspaper, one of Khaleda's close relatives expressed disappointment at the government decision.
The relative, however, was hopeful that the prime minister could still make it possible for Khaleda to go abroad for better treatment.
The 76-year-old BNP chief, who tested positive for Covid-19 for the second time on April 24, was admitted to Evercare Hospital on April 27 for a thorough check-up.
She was later shifted to the Coronary Care Unit of the hospital with breathing difficulties.
On April 28, a 10-member medical board, headed by Prof Shahabuddin Talukder, was formed to oversee her treatment.
Khaleda first tested positive for Covid on April 11 as eight people at her residence were infected with the virus.