♦ Khaleda taken to courtroom inside jail in a wheelchair
♦ None of her counsels present in 30-min proceedings
♦ She says she is sick, "cannot come here [court] every day"
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday expressed a lack of confidence in the special court trying the Zia Charitable Trust graft case against her after she was produced before it inside the old Dhaka central jail.
“There is no justice here. Punish me as much as you want, punish me for as long as you want,” Khaleda told the makeshift court inside the jail where she has been serving time in another graft case for around seven months.
Earlier in February, the same court sentenced her to five years' imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage graft case.
Khaleda, who was brought to the court in a wheelchair, said “I cannot come here every day as I am very sick. I know this court will not deliver justice. If you see my medical report, you will understand how sick I am.
“If I sit here for long, my legs will swell. None of my senior lawyers is here. If I had known this earlier, I would not have come here.
“This court cannot run like this.”
The BNP chief's lawyers boycotted yesterday's proceedings, protesting the shifting of the court to the old central jail from Alia Madrasa premises in Old Dhaka.
The court adjourned the proceedings and set September 12-13 for the next hearing.
On Tuesday, the law ministry issued a gazette notification, saying the proceedings in the Zia Charitable Trust case would be held at the old central jail on Nazimuddin Road. The decision, it said, was made taking Khaleda's security into consideration.
The move set off a debate with the BNP claiming this was “contradictory to the country's constitution”. This is not an open trial, it said.
The 73-year-old BNP chief landed in jail on February 8, following her conviction and sentence in the Zia Orphanage graft case.
At about 12:10pm yesterday, a female prison official brought Khaleda to the courtroom in a wheelchair, guarded by six others. Khaleda's attendant Fatema was seen walking behind her.
Draped in a pink scarf, Khaleda looked frail. A piece of white cloth was wrapped around her waist down. She was wearing white shoes.
The prison official took her to the right side of the dock where two other accused in the case -- BNP activists Monirul Islam Khan and Ziaul Islam Munna -- were standing.
A bottle of water and a box of tissue paper were kept on a small table in front of her.
The prosecutors sat opposite her while the judge's chair was on her right.
As none of her counsels was present in the courtroom, Khaleda gestured with her right hand for pro-BNP lawyer Golam Mostafa Khan, president of Dhaka Bar Association, to come to her. Her hand was shaking.
Mostafa, who sat around 10 feet from Khaleda, went to her and talked with her in a low voice.
It was hot and humid inside the packed courtroom on the ground floor of a building on the old jail premises. The nine fans fitted with the white false ceiling proved inadequate to cool off the 500-600 square-foot room.
Some 30 reporters and two pro-BNP lawyers, including Mostafa, were waiting for the proceedings to begin. About 20 police personnel stood guard inside.
Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman entered the courtroom around 12:15pm.
Using a microphone, prosecution lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajal told the court that he had already communicated to Khaleda's lawyers about the shifting of the court.
He also mentioned that a notice in this regard was hung at the previous location of the special court on Alia Madrasa premises.
Taking the court's permission, Mostafa said, “I came here as president of Dhaka Bar Association. None of madam's [Khaleda] lawyers is present in the court. There was a huge communication gap.
“We learnt about the shifting of the court from TV scrolls. Madam's lawyers may not be aware of it. Considering this, hearing in this case may be deferred and a new date fixed ...”
In response, the judge asked Mostafa to contact Khaleda's lawyers, saying he would resume proceedings an hour later.
Mostafa then said he was out of contact with Khaleda's lawyers as he had to keep his mobile phone with the guards outside the jail.
“I am disconnected from all since 9:30am. How can I communicate with them? I request you [the judge] to fix a new date.”
At one stage, Khaleda told the court, “There is no justice here. There will be punishment.” She was not given any microphone.
The judge then said he changed his decision and set September 12-13 for the next hearing, adjourning the proceedings around 12:45pm.
When Khaleda was leaving the courtroom, this correspondent asked how she was.
In reply, Khaleda, who saw through the entire proceedings sitting in the wheelchair, said, “I am very sick. My left leg is swollen ... It's almost paralysed. My left hand is almost in the same condition. My legs swell if I sit for long.”
She then showed her left hand that looked swollen.
Khaleda also expressed anger over the notice on the shifting of the court.
“The decision to shift the court was made a week ago, then why the gazette notification was issued yesterday?”
She also alleged that her lawyers were not allowed to defend her at the court.
This was the first time in seven months that Khaleda was produced before a court.
She appeared before the same court the last time on February 8 when she was convicted and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.
The Anti-Corruption Commission filed the Zia Charitable Trust graft case against Khaleda and three others with Tejgaon Police Station in August, 2011, for abusing power and raising funds for the trust from unknown sources.
Talking to this newspaper, Ahmed Azam Khan, an adviser to the BNP chairperson, said there is no instance in the country's history that trial of a case against any civilian has been held inside a prison.
“Trial of Colonel Taher inside a jail was totally different compared to the one involving Begum Khaleda Zia as Taher was a military official and was convicted under the military rule,” he said.
Contacted, Masud Ahmed Talukdar, another counsel for Khaleda, said they boycotted the proceedings as they had not been informed in due time about the shifting of the court.
He further said they would move to the High Court and challenge the government decision.
Later in the afternoon, Barrister Muhammad Nawshad Zamir served a legal notice on the secretary of the law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry on behalf of Khaleda with a request to cancel the gazette notification on the shifting of the court.
It mentioned that appropriate legal action will be taken if the law ministry does not cancel the notification by September 8.
Yesterday, movement of people and vehicles was restricted in the court area. A huge number of law enforcers were deployed in and around the old jail.
Journalists were allowed to enter the courtroom after prosecution lawyer Mosharraf entered it around 10:40am. They had to leave their mobile phones with the guards outside the jail gate before entering the makeshift court.
Since morning, pro-BNP lawyers staged demonstrations at the previous location of the special court on Alia Madrasa premises, protesting the shifting of the court.
At a press briefing at the BNP's Nayapaltan central office, the party's Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi announced that the party would form a human chain in front of the Jatiya Press Club on September 8 and observe a two-hour token hunger strike on September 12, demanding Khaleda's release.
Khaleda is now facing 37 cases. She has secured bail in all but three cases -- two in Comilla and one in Dhaka.