Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a press conference in Dhaka on December 31, 2018. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is under pressure from her Parliamentary colleagues to address rising crimes against women. Photo: AFP / Indranil Mukherjee

A Bangladesh opposition stalwart was jailed in absentia for three years Wednesday for threatening the prime minister in what his party said was another example of government critics being muzzled.

Thousands of opposition activists have been arrested under the rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has tightened her grip on power since being re-elected in December.

Giasuddin Quader Chowdhury, a vice-chairman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was found guilty of making statements “conducive to public mischief” and “criminal conspiracy,” the court said.

The charges arose from a speech he gave at a rally in 2018 when he said Hasina’s fate would be “worse” than that of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first president, who was assassinated in 1975.

“We wanted a harsher punishment as we believe in the rule of law,” prosecutor Samir Das Gupta told AFP.

Defence lawyer Enamul Hoque said the judgement was “politically motivated and biased.”

Chowdhury’s lawyers said the 70-year-old was currently in Singapore being treated in hospital.

Chowdhury comes from a controversial and politically influential family based in Chittagong.

His elder brother Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury was hanged in 2015 after being convicted of crimes committed in 1971 during Bangladesh’s war of independence with Pakistan.

The tribunal that convicted him was established by Hasina.

The BNP, whose de-facto leader Khaleda Zia – herself a former prime minister – is serving a 10-year jail sentence for corruption, also criticised the verdict.

“He did not get justice,” party spokesman Rizvi Ahmed told AFP, adding the government was filing “imaginary cases” to “muzzle” the opposition.

Last week an influential BNP lawmaker was sentenced to five years in jail on tax evasion charges.


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