Bangladesh summons British envoy over UK report on Zia's ‘house arrest’ status

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Dhaka, Jul 11 (PTI) Bangladesh on Sunday summoned the British Acting High Commissioner (AHC) here to convey disappointment over an 'insinuating and misleading' comment on the country’s ex-prime minister and main opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia's current status in a human rights report.

The foreign ministry also issued a statement saying acting British envoy Javed Patel was conveyed the government's views and disappointment with certain issues mentioned in the Bangladesh chapter of the Human Rights and Democracy Report 2020.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) released the report on Thursday.

'The acting (British) high commissioner was called mainly to clarify Begum Zia's current status…it (the report) said she was under 'house arrest' contrary to the fact that she has been conditionally freed from jail,' a foreign ministry official said.

Zia, 76, was serving a 17-year jail term in two graft charges from February 8, 2018 while the government allowed her temporary release on “humanitarian grounds” at the onset of COVID-19 pandemic after her brother and sister met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

But the government simultaneously set conditions requiring her to stay at her home, debarred her from leaving the country and taking part in political activities being a convict with charges of “moral turpitude”.

“The Acting High Commissioner (AHC) was told that it was grossly misleading to use the words ‘house arrest’ in reference to the current situation of Begum Khaleda Zia, Chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP),” the statement said.

It said the envoy was told that Bangladesh government 'released' her in March 2020 suspending her prison term under a provision of Bangladesh's criminal procedure code, in response to an application of her brother Shamim Eskandar.

Zia was initially freed for six months but the timeline was subsequently extended twice in September 2020 and March 2021.

“The AHC was told that it would be advisable to consult the authorities concerned of the government in case of any confusion over such legal issues,” said the statement.

The foreign ministry said it was also suggested that any official document of the UK government should also refrain from using 'any form of insinuating and misleading' statements about Bangladesh government or the ruling Awami League party.

It said the envoy took note of the Dhaka's views and assured of conveying those to his country's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and added the UK valued its diversified partnership with Bangladesh.

A foreign office spokesman said West Europe and the EU wing's director general Faiyaz Murshid Kazi interacted with the envoy as he was called to the ministry.

Zia tested coronavirus positive on April 11 and was admitted to private Evercare Hospital on April 27 while breathing problems required her to be shifted to the CCU of the facility on May 3 but returned home last month after treatment.

She landed in jail on February 8, 2017 after a court originally handed her down a five-year prison term on charges of embezzling foreign donations.

The donations were meant for an orphanage, named after Zia's husband and BNP’s founder slain president Ziaur Rahman, during her 2001-2006 premiership.

Zia's elder son and acting BNP chief Tarique Rahman is in London to evade justice in several criminal and graft charges.

Zia served three times as the premier of Bangladesh since 1991. Her BNP suffered defeat in the December 30 in 2018 elections bagging only six seats in 300-seat parliament. PTI AR MRJ MRJ

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