DHAKA, Bangladesh – A medical board formed by Bangladesh’s government is evaluating the health of opposition leader Khaleda Zia in the hospital where she was admitted this weekend following complaints that her condition was deteriorating rapidly in a prison in the nation’s capital, a doctor said Monday.
Abdul Jalil Chowdhury, head of the doctors’ panel, said the 73-year-old opposition leader is suffering from multiple health problems including arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure, based on her medical record. Zia, a former prime minister and the political archrival of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was sentenced to five years in jail in a corruption trial in February.
She was admitted to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, a state-run facility in Dhaka, on Saturday after months of requests to the government for treatment at a private hospital. Her Bangladesh Nationalist Party had rejected previous offers by the government to take her to a military or state hospital, but the government refused to give in.
Chowdhury said the assessment on Monday was based mainly on past medical reports because the five-member board was unable to meet Zia in person after waiting for more than one hour at the hospital. On Sunday, the board members attempted twice to meet her but failed. It was unclear why Zia did not see them.
Rumeen Farhana, the opposition party’s assistant secretary for international affairs, said supporters are worried about Zia’s health condition.
“She needs serious attention as she is critically ill. When she was taken to the hospital the pain in her face was evident,” Farhana said. “Most probably she suffered a mild stroke recently. She is unable to walk, she can’t move one of her hands.”
Zia was convicted of embezzling about $250,000 in donations meant for an orphanage trust established when she first became prime minister in 1991. Her elder son, Tarique Rahman, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for involvement in the case. Rahman, her political heir-apparent, lives in London and was tried in absentia along with two other people.
Zia faces more than 30 other charges, ranging from corruption to sedition.
Because of the conviction Zia might not be able to contest general elections due in December because the law generally says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years. However, there is a possibility that she could run if higher courts allow her.
Her party says her jailing in February was politically motivated and an attempt to keep her away from the elections. The government has denied the allegation, saying it was a decision by the court.
Zia was the country’s prime minister three times — twice for full five-year terms and once for a brief period.
Bangladesh politics are deeply divided, with rivals Hasina and Zia ruling the country alternately since 1991, when democracy was restored.
Both women emerged from political dynasties. Zia is the widow of Ziaur Rahman, a general-turned-president who was assassinated in 1981. Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s independence leader and first president who was assassinated in 1975.
In the last election in 2014, Zia’s party and its political allies boycotted the race, allowing Hasina to return to power with a landslide victory.
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