The debate over Khaleda Zia’s parole
Ever since the imprison-ment of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, her party has systematically demanded her release. Recently, a possibility for her "parole" has come up in discussion, even amongst the leading members of the ruling Awami League. The high officials and lawyers of BNP are emphasising on the fact that "parole" is not equivalent to being discharged from prison. They are further stating that since the charges brought against Khaleda Zia are for political reasons, if the government wishes, it can grant bail to the BNP chairperson based on her medical condition. And if her bail petition is approved, then she will be sent to the UK for better treatment.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir learnt of Khaleda Zia's condition from her family members, who were the only ones granted permission to meet with the former prime minister. The possibility of Khaleda Zia's release raises a number of issues. According to the law, does she have the opportunity to get bail? Is there a possibility of her being released on parole? If she is released on parole, will she be able to go abroad for treatment?
First, let us look into the possibility of parole.
There are no laws passed by parliament on parole. It is within the ambit of the Home Ministry. According to the policy of the ministry dated June 1, 2016, there is scope for a conditional temporary release. When someone close to a prisoner of a significant status or other classes passes away, a parole can be granted to them.
The policy states that the time of the temporary release will not exceed 12 hours. However, in certain cases, if the government wants, the time period can be adjusted, but there is no specific allocation of the time frame. During the time, the prisoner must be constantly under observation by the police. According to the policy, when released on parole, the prisoner will be handed over to the police by the jail authorities and the police will hand over the prisoner back to the jail authorities within the designated time.
Supreme court lawyer Arif Khan told The Daily Star, "According to the policy, a person released on parole is not allowed to travel abroad, whether it be for medical purpose or otherwise. Moreover, whether a prisoner admits their guilt or not has nothing to do with the parole."
"Those released on parole do have the opportunity to travel abroad," said S M Rezaul Karim, former Awami League legal affairs secretary and currently the minister of Fisheries and Livestock. "Anyone on parole will have to report to the Bangladesh embassy in the destination country. All the necessary details including their current address, the hospital they are visiting for treatment and other relevant information must be provided to the embassy."
In 2008, Awami League's then Secretary General, Abdul Jalil was released on parole and he went to Singapore to receive treatment, though it created some controversy later as, according to parole regulations, this was not permissible.
Now let us come to the question of bail.
So far, there are 34 ongoing cases against Begum Khaleda Zia; she has already been sentenced for two of them. The two cases have been disposed of at the Appellate Division. Which means, the cases have ended. Since they have been disposed of, there is no scope of her getting bail in these two cases. The only way Khaleda Zia can get bail is for the ongoing cases. And even if she gets bail in all the ongoing cases, she cannot escape prison.
Apart from getting out on "parole" there is a scope to seek presidential clemency. According to Article 49 of the Constitution, if someone admits one's guilt, such clemency can be given. The president has the power to reject the plea for clemency. He can also pardon all the sentences or reduce the duration of the sentence. He can also suspend the sentence for a specific time and arrange for release from prison.
The most crucial question to be considered is, what exactly does Khaleda Zia want? A few months ago, BNP MPs met with her in jail. One of these MPs told The Daily Star that when he had broached the subject of taking up the issue of parole or a way for her release, with the government, Khaleda Zia said "there's no use", and asked him not to enter into such discussions. According to the MP, Khaleda Zia's health had seriously deteriorated, so much so that she couldn't even stand by herself.
A few days ago, Khaldea Zia's sister and a few other relatives had visited her in jail. A senior BNP leader told The Daily Star that after the visit, Khaleda Zia's relatives reported that her health was in the worst possible state; both her arms had become bent with stiffness; she could not eat properly. According to Khaleda's relatives, this was the first time she had resigned herself to the idea of bail or release on parole, remarking: "Do whatever you think best." It seemed to them that she was at the end of her life and that was why she made that remark. But one thing is for sure—under no circumstances will Khaleda Zia seek presidential clemency, as according to her, she has not committed any crime.
According to a source, BNP as a party will not appeal for parole. Only if her release on parole is guaranteed will the family appeal for it. Then BNP can claim that the family, on humanitarian grounds, had requested parole. The appeal would have nothing to do with the party.
Almost all BNP leaders believe that her health is more important than anything else and appealing for release on parole will not taint her "no compromise" image. BNP leaders think that even if the government tries to propagate such a notion, the people of this country will not believe it. If Khaleda Zia is released on parole on humanitarian grounds, it will be a positive development for BNP's politics. Yet they cannot shed the apprehension of what the head of the government is thinking. Despite talks between Obaidul Quader and Mirza Fakhrul, this unease has not been alleviated. It is not the court on which Khaleda Zia's release depends; it depends on the decision of the government. And this decision lies mainly with the head of the government.
Golam Mortoza is a journalist.
The article was translated from Bangla by the Editorial desk.