The High Court yesterday accepted BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's appeal challenging the lower court verdict that convicted and jailed her for five years in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case.
The HC also stayed the lower court order that fined her and asked the court to forward the case records to it within 15 days.
It fixed Sunday for hearing a bail petition filed by the BNP chief.
The bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Shahidul Karim came up with the order and fixed the date after hearing arguments on the acceptance of her appeal and on the bail petition. The appeal was filed on Tuesday and the bail petition yesterday.
Zainul Abedin, a lawyer for Khaleda and also a vice-chairman of BNP, told The Daily Star that accepting an appeal by the High Court for hearing was a routine work.
“Now the records of the case will be sent to the section concerned of the High Court. The officials concerned will examine the records and prepare the case for its hearing,” he said, adding that it would take at least three months for the HC to start hearing the appeal.
Replying to a question, Zainul, also the president of Supreme Court Bar Association, said it was not the right time now for making comments on whether the BNP chief would be able to contest the next general election, as the Election Commission was yet to announce the polls schedule.
Khurshid Alam Khan, lawyer of the Anti-Corruption Commission, told this correspondent that the HC would hold a hearing on Khaleda's bail petition on Sunday afternoon.
Eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik said the EC would decide whether Khaleda could contest the next parliamentary election.
The returning officer concerned would decide whether the BNP chief could contest the national election, if she submitted the nomination form ahead of the election.
According to the lawyer, the EC allowed ruling Awami League lawmakers Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya and Abdur Rahman Badi to continue as lawmakers even though they were convicted and sentenced by courts in criminal cases. The EC did so as the HC accepted their appeals against the convictions and sentences.
Therefore, the EC can allow Khaleda to contest the parliamentary polls, as the HC has accepted her appeal, Shahdeen added.
During the court proceedings yesterday, Khaleda's lawyer AJ Mohammad Ali prayed to the HC to grant bail to his client, considering her age and social status.
He said the HC might grant bail to Khaleda as she was handed a short sentence of five years' imprisonment and she had been in jail for 15 days.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam prayed to the HC to give him time for taking preparation to place arguments on the bail petition. He said the petition contained many grounds and he needed time to go through it.
Khurshid told the HC that the ACC had to be given reasonable time under the Anti-Corruption Commission (Amendment) Act, 2003, to take preparation for placing arguments on the bail petition.
Meanwhile, the two judges left the courtroom for about 10 minutes after a pandemonium had broken out there during yesterday's court proceedings. Court sources said several lawyers shouted over entering, standing and sitting in the courtroom.
Earlier in the day, Khaleda filed a separate petition with the HC seeking bail in the graft case, although she prayed for bail in the appeal petition.
The 880-page petition cited 32 grounds on which the HC might consider granting bail to Khaleda, one of her lawyers Sagir Hossain Leon told The Daily Star.
In the bail petition, Khaleda said there was a long-standing tradition of the courts of Bangladesh and the subcontinent that the law favoured granting bail to a convict or accused if she was a woman and the intent of the legislature appeared to be that bail should invariably be granted to a woman.
The BNP chief said she was 73 years old and was suffering from various chronic degenerative medical conditions.
Khaleda argued that she could be granted bail as she had been prime minister thrice and the leader of the opposition in parliament twice. She is also the chairperson of BNP and a senior law-abiding citizen.
She said she didn't misuse the privilege of bail during the trial and that her conviction as well as the sentence against her was based on misreading and misconstruction of evidence on record.
On February 8, Special Judge's Court-5 of Dhaka sentenced Khaleda to five years' rigorous imprisonment after it had found her and five others guilty in the graft case.
The court also sentenced Khaleda's elder son Tarique Rahman, now the acting chairman of BNP, and four others to 10 years' rigorous imprisonment each, and fined them a total of Tk 2.10 crore, saying that all the six convicts have to pay the fine in equal amounts.
The ACC had filed the case with Ramna Police Station in July 2008, accusing the six of misappropriating over Tk 2.1 crore that came from a foreign bank as grants for orphans.