Top court blocks bail for politicians
Thursday, 24 April 2008

REUTERS, DHAKA - Bangladesh's Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that no one facing charges under emergency powers would be eligible for bail, effectively blocking the release of detained politicians until their trials are over.

The South Asian nation has been under a state of emergency since an army-backed interim government headed by former Central Bank Governor Fakhruddin Ahmed took over in January 2007, following deadly political violence.

"No court, including the High Court, has jurisdiction to grant bail to anyone arrested under emergency power rules," the Supreme Court said.

The decision virtually rules out the chances of the country's two most senior politicians, rival former Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, being bailed before corruption cases against them are complete, lawyers and officials said.

The Supreme Court ruling came after the interim government appealed against a High Court action that granted "anticipatory bail" to a trader charged, under emergency rules, with selling adulterated edible oil in April last year.

Anticipatory bail is a bail granted in advance, so that police do not arrest the accused. Since April last year, the High Court has also granted anticipatory bail to several others charged with corruption. It was not immediately clear if the previous bails would be cancelled following Wednesday's ruling.

The interim government launched a nationwide anti-corruption drive after taking power, which has seen police detain more than 170 political figures, including Hasina and Khaleda.

Hasina is currently on trial for corruption, while a prosecution against Khaleda is due to begin soon. Both deny the charges and say the cases against them are politically motivated.

But their parties, the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party, had demanded that the two women be released, at least on bail, to prepare for elections due late this year.

Hasina also wants to travel abroad for treatment for high blood pressure and ear and eye ailments. At least 40 of the detainees, including several former ministers, have been convicted and sentenced to various jail terms for corruption and abuse of power.

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