Bangladesh's opposition party accused the government on Tuesday of putting the health of their jailed leader at risk by refusing to let her personal doctors treat her inside prison.

Khaleda Zia, the 72-year-old leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) who was jailed in February for corruption, has been suffering complications from arthritis and is struggling to walk, doctors say.

A team of four government doctors from a state-run hospital in Dhaka have been treating Zia, a two-time former prime minister, in prison where she is serving her five-year sentence in isolation.

But her supporters want Zia's personal physicians given access to her cell.

The government has yet to respond to the request.

“The government is trying to break our leader's morale and it is taking a toll on her health,” BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed told AFP.

Mohammad Shamsuzzaman, an orthopaedic specialist at Dhaka Medical College Hospital who visited Zia as part of the government team, said her condition was not serious but her arthritis had worsened in prison.

“She has pain in hands and legs. She couldn't walk 50 metres without assistance,” he told AFP, adding she had also developed back pain.

Zia, an erstwhile ally turned fierce political rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, already suffered from arthritis, diabetes and knee replacements when she was sentenced to prison for embezzlement.

She has denied any wrongdoing. Her lawyers had sought her release on bail until an appeal is heard but a decision on this was postponed until next month.

Zia's supporters say the guilty sentence was politically motivated and designed to remove Hasina's chief opponent before a general election slated for December.

Last week a report by German think tank the Bertelsmann Foundation listed Bangladesh as a new autocracy, raising doubts about the credibility of the country's elections. The ruling Awami League has rejected the assertion.

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