A Dhaka court yesterday exempted BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia from personal appearance before it and decided to continue the trial of the Zia Charitable Trust corruption case inside Old Dhaka Central Jail in her absence.
Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Judge Court-5 passed the order after he heard a prosecution lawyer's petition seeking completion of the trial in her absence.
The appeal was filed on September 13 as Khaleda did not appear before the court in the last several months due to her illness.
The judge also extended Khaleda's bail in the case till September 24 and set the day for the next hearing.
The court ordered the jail authorities to provide Khaleda treatment in jail as per the Jail Code after the defence lawyer submitted an appeal.
Soon after the order, Masud Ahmed Talukder, one of Khaleda's lawyers, submitted a petition saying that they were aggrieved over the order and they sought adjournment of arguments as they would challenge the order with the higher court.
Asked about their presence at the court, Masud told The Daily Star that they would be present at the court on every scheduled date to defend their client as she had not been declared a “fugitive”.
The judge said according to the jail authorities, Khaleda yesterday expressed unwillingness to appear before the court when she was asked to do so.
In the order, the judge said Khaleda was willfully absent and she was trying to delay the trial proceedings, adding that such order was passed so that other accused in the case were not deprived of justice. Moreover, she did not appear before the court on September 12 and 13.
“The defence lawyer for BNP chairperson can participate in all the hearings, including arguments of the case, even though her personal attendance was exempted,” the judge mentioned in his order.
On September 5, Khaleda appeared before the court and said that she would not appear before it for hearing as she was ill.
Before passing the order, both the prosecution and the defence placed arguments on different points of law of which some were in support of passing order on behalf of the accused and some were on behalf of the state.
At the beginning of yesterday's hearing, Sanaullah Mia, another lawyer for Khaleda, submitted three separate petitions -- one for extending the bail of Khaleda, one for adjournment of the hearing and the other for better medical treatment for his client.
He told the court on Wednesday that he, along with Masud, met Khaleda at the jail where she said she was very ill and she would appear before the court after her recovery from illness. She never said she would not appear before it.
“There is no scope for continuing the trial against Khaleda in her absence as she is now under court custody and on bail in the case,” said Sanaullah, citing precedents of Pakistani courts. Moreover, the prosecution did not inform them about filing of the petition seeking completion of the trial in the absence of Khaleda.
Opposing the defence plea, Anti-Corruption Commission Public Prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajol told the court that there was no legal bar to submitting any petition, adding that Khaleda on September 5 said she could not attend the court proceedings due to her illness.
After the jail authorities informed the court about Khaleda's unwillingness to appear before it, the court on September 12 adjourned hearing of the case, saying that it would hear whether it should continue its proceedings in her absence the following day.
On February 8, the same special court awarded Khaleda five years' imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case and sentenced her elder son Tarique Rahman, now acting BNP chairman, and four others to 10 years' imprisonment each.
The ACC lodged the Zia Charitable Trust graft case with Tejgaon Police Station in August 2011, accusing Khaleda and three others of abusing the power to raise funds for the trust from unknown sources.