Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bangladesh Supreme Court paves way for secular politics


Photo: Bangladesh Supreme Court in capital Dhaka and (below) Law Minister Shafique Ahmed


SALEEM SAMAD in Dhaka

THE SUPREME Court of Bangladesh has imposed a ban on political parties that propagate Islamic ideology, reverting to the first Constitution 38 year ago.

The 184- page judgment was issued on Wednesday. The apex court got rid of bulk of the fifth constitutional amendment, 1979, including provisions that had allowed religious political parties to prosper, and legitimised military dictatorship.

The verdict dubbed such parties as extra- constitutional adventurers and suggested “suitable punishment” to these perpetrators who installed military regimes and imposed martial laws.

It is a major blow to the Islamist parties as they advocate imposition of the Sharia and for the Quran and Sunna to overshadow the state constitution.

The Islamists also demand that the 158 million strong, Muslim- dominated country should be an Islamic republic.

Nearly 11 Islamic parties are likely to fall under the axe of the independent Bangladesh election commission, said election commissioner Muhammad Sakhawat Hussain. The election commission will take action once the judgement reaches their office.

Eleven Islamic parties, including the Jamaat- e- Islami that is blamed for its involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1971 war of independence, were registered with the election commission.

Five senior leaders of the Islamist party were recently arrested and are awaiting trial by the International War Crimes Tribunal set up in accordance with an election pledge of the present Awami League government.

Law minister Shafique Ahmed said “ secularism will be reinstated in the Constitution” in line with the Supreme Court ruling.

“The amendments that were enforced by military orders from August 15, 1975, to April 9, 1979, have been declared illegal and repealed by the Supreme Court,” the law minister said.

The first constitution of Bangladesh included secularism as a key political philosophy based in the spirit of the war of independence that severed the country from Pakistan in 1971.

After the assassination of founder Shiekh Mujibur Rahman in a military putsch in 1975, the army- led government doctored the Constitutions guiding principle and penned Bismillahhir Rahmanhir Rahim, or Faith in Allah, into it in 1979

Simultaneously, religion- based parties were legalised and ushered into politics in 1979, which is known as fifth amendment.

Shafique alleged that the changes made in the Constitution through the fifth amendment were against the spirit of the war of independence, which also went against a democratic and non- communal state.

Another military junta dared to rewrite the Constitution and made Islam the “ state religion” and also incorporated Quranic verses in it.

However, the amendment made by the second military- backed government will not be affected by the court verdict, Shafique said.

International jurist and author of the secular constitution Dr Kamal Hossain said there was no hurdle in implementing it. The government will now have to issue a gazette notification that will endorse the historical judgement.

Finance minister AMA Muhith said establishing a non- communal, prosperous and rights- based social structure was the main challenge before the country.

Since the Awami Leagues win over the Islamist- allied Bangladesh Nationalist Party ( BNP) in 2008, the government has cracked down on Islamic groups and parties.

BNP founder General Ziaur Rahman had put the 1979 amendments in place during his 1975- 1981 regime. The party, now led by his widow, Khaleda Zia, appealed against the courts first ruling on the amendments in January. #


First published in The Mail Today, page 9, July 31, 2010


Saleem Samad is a Bangladesh- based journalist


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