Bangladesh jails key opposition lawmaker for graft

Dhaka :A Bangladeshi court sentenced a senior opposition figure to five years in jail Tuesday for evading taxes on the sale of a car he imported when his party was last in office.

The opposition in the South Asian country has long complained that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League party — which tightened its grip on power following elections last year — is seeking to muzzle dissent.

Harunur Rashid, who has emerged as a prominent voice in parliament, was found guilty of evading taxes on Monday after he sold a car he had bought duty-free in 2005 when his Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was in government.

He was sentenced to five years in jail and fined five million taka ($59,000) by a court in Dhaka “for selling the duty-free car illegally, depriving taxes to the government”, court inspector Ashikur Rahman told AFP.

The owner of a private television channel who bought the car was also sentenced to two years in jail.

There was no immediate comment from the BNP, the largest opposition party, whose leader and two-time former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was last year jailed for 10 years on graft charges.

Rashid, also a joint secretary of the BNP, earlier this month met with the deputy leader of the Awami League in an attempt to secure bail for Zia, saying she needed medical treatment abroad.

His own conviction comes weeks after Hafizuddin Ahmed, another senior BNP figure, was arrested under contentious digital security laws on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda.

He was later granted bail.

The BNP said the arrest was carried out to “muzzle” Ahmed as he was planning to speak out against a water-sharing accord Bangladesh recently signed with India.

A former army colonel, who was reportedly a member of Zia’s security team, was also arrested on the same charges.

In recent years tens of thousands of opposition activists have been arrested for various acts.

At a general election in December which was marred by allegations of widespread fraud and ballot stuffing, the Awami League tightened its grip on power, with the BNP managing to win only seven seats.

Hasina last month launched a sweeping anti-graft crackdown, arresting prominent members of her own party and sacking the influential heads of its student and youth wings.

Hasina said the drive was necessary to prevent a repeat of the January 2007 coup by the powerful military, which said tackling corruption was one of its key goals.