Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Convicted of Corruption – Civil Unrest Risk
9 Feb 2018
Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh’s former prime minister, and a senior member of the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), was convicted of corruption charges on 08 February 2018. An extensive security presence was in place surrounding the courthouse in Dhaka, including the Rapid Action Battalion, a specialist para-military unit, as thousands of BNP supporters took to the streets to demonstrate their support for Zia in the lead up to and following the verdict.
- Khaleda Zia, the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh was handed a five-year jail term for embezzlement and corruption in office.
- Violent protests were reported in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet.
- Zia’s party, the Bangladesh National Party, have announced their intent to continue protests.
Political: Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh’s former prime minister, and a senior member of the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), was convicted of corruption charges on 08 February 2018. An extensive security presence was in place surrounding the courthouse in Dhaka, including the Rapid Action Battalion, a specialist para-military unit, as thousands of BNP supporters took to the streets to demonstrate their support for Zia in the lead up to and following the verdict.
One person was reported killed, and another 25 seriously wounded in Dhaka on 08 February, law enforcement made use of tear gas and batons to disperse crowds, and travel restrictions were implemented in an attempt to impede protesters gathering. Beyond Dhaka, police in Sylhet used rubber bullets to break-up crowds, wounding four, while Chittagong saw clashes between police and rioters. The BNP reports that up to 3,500 party members may have been detained by police in the lead up to the verdict.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
The allegations against Zia, and members of her wider family, relate to the redirection of approximately $250,000 of foreign donations towards an orphanage project between 2001 and 2006. Zia received a five-year jail sentence, with her son and four other participants receiving ten-year terms. Bangladeshi law bars those with convictions of over two years from holding elected office within five years after their release. Key groups within the BNP hold that the corruption charges are part of a wider plot to force Zia and her family to withdraw from politics, rather than an abuse of power on her part.
Unrest is likely to continue into the weekend of 09-11 February as BNP activists have called upon their supporters to continue to oppose the verdict, with major events planned following Friday prayers. Demonstrations are likely to focus around BNP party offices. In the longer term, Zia has already announced the intention to appeal the judgement in the Supreme Court, and any further legal hearings are also likely to be accompanied by protests. No dates for the appeal have yet been identified. At this stage, Zia has not been barred from running in the December 2018 election, however the ban will be enacted if she loses her appeal.
SECURITY ADVICECivil UnrestModerate
Travellers should be aware there is an increased security presence in Bangladesh, especially in Dhaka and other major urban areas. If travelling within country, it is vital that travellers adhere fully to the instructions of security forces; opposition may result in a forceful response.
It is recommended that all protests or rallies are avoided. It is likely police will use forceful measures against demonstrators given the recent history of unrest in the country. Political gatherings may initially seem peaceful but can escalate quickly into violence. It would be advisable for travellers to maintain a low profile in the short-term and monitor local events. If currently in Bangladesh, it is recommended to contact the tour operator or airline for advice on rebooking return flights.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ enhanced security measures when visiting Bangladesh â airport meet and greet and a locally vetted driver for the length of a visit should be a minimum-security precaution. These measures will act to substantially reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime, and local expertise will assist in avoiding areas prone to unrest. The use of travel tracking, and intelligence software is also recommended, in order to permit employers to implement effective duty of care, and to keep travellers appraised of changes in their security environment.
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