DHAKA: Bangladesh's Law Minister Anisul Huq said on Tuesday, November 23, 2021, that the government will examine with "utmost importance" a memorandum seeking permission to allow ailing former prime minister Khaleda Zia to visit abroad for medical treatment.
The 76-year-old chief of main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who is serving a 17-year jail term in two graft cases since February 2018, has been suffering for some time from arthritis, diabetes, kidney issues, lung ailments and eye problems.
A delegation of pro-BNP lawyers on Tuesday met Huq and submitted the memorandum, urging him to take necessary steps to send the former premier abroad for treatment on humanitarian grounds.
"We will examine the issue with utmost importance," Huq told the delegation of lawyers.
Huq said he would not comment about the legal provisions under the criminal procedure code (CrPC) regarding the issue since "you (lawyers) are my guests today while I belong to the (lawyers) family myself".
"(But) She (Zia) has been allowed to stay at home as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has considered her condition from a humanitarian aspect," the law minister said.
Zia, who has served three terms as prime minister, is now being treated at a private hospital, with family members and Opposition leaders' saying her condition was "deteriorating everyday".
Huq had recently said that under the existing legal provisions Zia must return to jail first and make a fresh application to go abroad for treatment as she had agreed to a condition that she would not leave the country during her release from jail at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The memorandum argued that "the government can anytime make an arrangement for Khaleda Zia's treatment abroad by issuing a fresh gazette notification without imposing any condition under section 401 (1)or issuing a new order under subsection 6 of 401 (of CrPC)".
It said Zia did not violate any conditions which were set for her release while specialist doctors who were treating her gave an opinion to send her abroad for advanced treatment.
"We think it's imperative to allow her to go abroad for advanced treatment in a bid to save her life," it added.
Zia was temporarily released from prison in March 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, the suspension of Zia's prison sentence has been extended by six months thrice.
It was last extended in September.
On behalf of the family, Zia's younger brother Shamim Iskander submitted an application to the home ministry on November 11, making an identical appeal.
Last week, Prime Minister Hasina described Zia's application to travel abroad for medical treatment as a "legal matter", saying her government had done its part by conditionally releasing her from jail within the purview of her "executive authority".
In July, the law minister had said in Parliament that Zia must confess her wrongdoings and apologise to the President if she wants to go abroad for treatment.
The BNP, however, maintained that she had no reason to do so as she was innocent.
Zia was sent to jail by a local court on charges of embezzling foreign donations meant for an orphanage, named after her slain husband and president Ziaur Rehman, during her premiership between 2001 and 2006.
Rehman, a military ruler-turned-politician, was the founder of the BNP.
Zia's party claims both cases against her are politically motivated.
Zia has served thrice as the premier of Bangladesh since 1991.
Her party suffered a miserable defeat in the 2018 elections bagging only six seats in the 300-seat parliament.