Over the weekend, after much deliberation over whether Bangladesh will be a secular state or Islamic, the Bangladesh High Court rejected the 28-year-old petition requesting the removal of a constitutional provision recognizing Islam as the official religion of the Muslim majority nation.
The court ruled the the Committee against Autocracy and Communalism did not have the right to be heard in court. Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hogue, who was one of three judges, said that the court found that the petitioner does not have “locus standi and that is why the petition will be summarily rejected.”
Subrata Chowdhury, the organization’s lawyer, commented that he was disappointed in the decision.
“Without a hearing and without giving us any chance to present our argument on the point of locus standi, the court dismissed the case,” he told Al Jazeera.
Others, however, were pleased.
Lawyer Maulana MA Raquib, who is the president of the religious party Nezam-e-Islam who was present during the proceedings commented that Islam should be the state religion as the majority of people believe in Islam. Raquib also said that by recognizing Islam as the state religion will not affect minority religions as there is a “guarantee in the constitution for the minorities.”
The petition was filed in 1988 after President Lieutenant General Hussain Muhammad Ershad declared Islam as the official religion in an attempt to gain popular support while major political parties attempted to remove him from power. Ershad resigned amid protests in 1990.
Professor Anisuzzaman who was one of the leaders of the petitioning organizations, said, “We filed the petition then because Bangladesh was founded as a secular state, and having a state religion contradicts the basic structure of the constitution,”
“The founding fathers of the country wanted to have a secular nation, and all of us during our liberation war subscribed to that and Bangladesh was founded on that basis.”
Previous to that, Bangladesh was declared a secular state until it was granted independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Christianity Today reported that the decision to proceed with the amendment was out of the raised concerns over government ties to Islam.
“Minority groups in Bangladesh continue to face discrimination in the law, in society and in treatment by enforcement agencies,” stated Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide in a statement to the United Nations this month. “Last year’s multiple attacks on Shia mosques, Hindu temples and threats to Christian church leaders are reflective of the ongoing struggles for religious minorities in Bangladesh. Increasing number of violations on freedom of expression are also concerning, indicated by attacks on bloggers and publishers of secular material.”
The dismissal of the case has permitted the government to avoid establishing its position in favor of the amendment due to a fear of political danger.
Bangladesh is currently ranked 35 on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch list of places where Christians face severe persecution.
Bangladesh currently reports 90% Muslim, 8% Hindu, and 2% Christian.Click here for reuse options!
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