Police have banned street protests and rounded up what opposition figures say is thousands of their supporters in a crackdown ahead of Thursday’s court ruling in the capital, Dhaka. A guilty verdict could prevent Zia, a former ally turned arch-nemesis of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, from contesting a general election slated for December.
Prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment for Zia — a two-time former prime minister and head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — for allegedly embezzling 21 million taka ($252,000) through a charity trust fund.
On the eve of the verdict the 72-year-old decried the charges as “false” and insisted “not a penny” had been stolen. “This is an attempt to use the court against me, in an effort to sideline me from politics and elections and to isolate me from the people,” Zia told a packed news conference. “I am ready to face all outcomes. I am not afraid of jail or punishment. I am not going to bow down my head.”