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Ex-Bangladeshi PM Khaleda Zia released from prison amid pandemic

Imprisoned chief of Bangladesh Nationalist Party Khaleda Zia arrives at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital for her treatment in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 1. Justice officials plan to temporarily release her from prison during the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo courtesy of Stringer/EPA-EFE
Imprisoned chief of Bangladesh Nationalist Party Khaleda Zia arrives at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital for her treatment in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 1. Justice officials plan to temporarily release her from prison during the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo courtesy of Stringer/EPA-EFE

March 24 (UPI) -- Bangladesh's government plans to temporarily release former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia from prison amid the coronavirus pandemic, the country's law minister said Tuesday.

Law Minister Anisul Huq said Zia will be released for six months on humanitarian grounds. He made the announcement during a news briefing from his home in Gulshan.

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"We have decided to release her on humanitarian grounds as per the instructions of the prime minister," Anisul said. "She can receive treatment staying at her home but she cannot go abroad."

Bdnews24.com reported Khaleda is unwell and officials worried about her risks of getting COVID-19 while incarcerated. She had already been transferred from prison to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University for treatment. The new order means she can now receive treatment at home.

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"She is already admitted in the best hospital in Bangladesh. She cannot go abroad. Under these difficult circumstances, sending someone abroad is like telling someone to commit suicide," Anisul said.

In October 2018, a court sentenced Khaleda to seven years in prison for corruption after she and three co-conspirators abused their powers by raising charitable funds to be used for their own benefit. In addition to the "rigorous imprisonment," Khaleda was fined and was forced to give up land purchased through her Zia Charitable Trust.

At the time of her sentencing, Khaleda had been in jail for several months already for embezzling funds for an orphanage. She has served 25 months of her seven-year sentence.

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Khaleda served as prime minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006. She is the chairwoman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus interactive tracking website counted 39 cases and four deaths from COVID-19 in Bangladesh as of noon Tuesday. The country is preparing to cut off communications and order people to stay at home to stem the spread of the virus.

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