Demonstrations held outside the European Parliament in Brussels this week led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). At a Press Conference at the Brussels Press Club, they called for the release of Khaleda Zia the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
Khaleda Zia is currently serving a prison sentence having been convicted of corruption in 2018. She was admitted to hospital in November 2021 with critical liver and kidney illnesses.
Doctors treating her have advised that she needs expert treatment abroad, in a specialist hospital in Germany, the UK, or USA.
The BNP argue that Khaleda Zia’s trial and conviction in 2018 were politically motivated, and that she is a victim of human rights abuses. The allegations are denied by the ruling government who have refused permission for her to leave Bangladesh whilst she is still serving the sentence ordered by the court.
There are also question marks hanging over the links of the BNP with the political party Jamaat e Islam Bangladesh whose political leaders were notorious war criminals, some of whom served as cabinet ministers when Khaleda Zia was Prime Minister.
Khaleda Zia has now become a pawn in a political power play by the BNP to allege a breach of her human rights and score points off their political opponents. The fact remains that she was found guilty by the court of siphoning-off funds from the Bangladeshi people. It will not help a swift resolution of the political dispute between the BNP and the ruling government of Bangladesh to revisit the charges and the court processes that led to her conviction 4 years ago.
Party politics and arguments about human rights should be put to one side.
The more pressing and urgent question for Madame Zia is one of humanitarian compassion, a quality that is sadly in short supply in the world of politics, when it comes to disputes between bickering political parties.
Now aged 77 and in her twilight years, Madame Zia is suffering from serious terminal illness, and deserves clemency. She was a leading public figure in her prime who served her country well, and did much to promote women’s rights in Asia. But nothing is to be gained by anybody in pursuing a contested argument about human rights, when what matters for an urgent solution to her medical problems is human compassion.
The BNP should petition the President of Bangladesh to show mercy and pardon Madame Zia on humanitarian grounds so that she can exercise her wish to receive expert medical treatment overseas, and reduce her pain and suffering in freedom.