In October 2010, Bangladesh‘s High Court declared that the 1972 Constitution would be restored, though as of this writing it is unclear whether this has taken effect. The 1972 Constitution espouses secularism, democracy, socialism, and nationalism as the political philosophy of the country and has no reference to Islam as the state religion. This ruling could provide a legal basis for banning existing Islamist political parties, even those that espouse achieving Islamist goals through democratic means. However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has stated publically that while secularism will be restored to the Constitution, Bangladesh will remain an Islamic state. Further, she has publically stated that the ban on religious parties will not strictly be enforced. It is unclear if she meant that, as a Muslim majority country, Bangladesh will always be an Islamic state even if the Constitution does not recognize it as such, or that Islam would play some other role in Bangladesh‘s economic, political, and social make-up through a different legal mechanism.
Bangladesh‘s small Ahmadi community of about 100,000 has been the target of a campaign to designate them as ―non-Muslim‖ heretics. In January 2004, the then-government, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in coalition with Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and a smaller Islamist party, banned the publication and distribution of Ahmadi religious literature. Since then, the ban has not been enforced, although it has never been officially rescinded. Also, violence against Ahmadis has diminished in recent years due to improved and more vigorous police protection, although in August 2010, 40 Ahmadis were attacked and seriously injured by a group of Islamists in the Tangail district. In February 2011, Bangladeshi Ahmadis were prevented from holding their annual convention in the Gazipur district. The group had received advance official permission to hold the three-day event, but police shut it down on the first day based on a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure that allows local people to object to an event based on public order concerns.
Despite improvements, the government of Bangladesh nevertheless continues to show weaknesses in protecting human rights, including religious freedom, and religious extremism remains a threat to the rule of law and democratic institutions. Based on these concerns, USCIRF continues to recommend that the U.S. government encourage the government of Bangladesh to take action on the following issues and ensure consistent implementation: investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law perpetrators of violent acts against members of religious minority communities, women, and non-governmental organizations promoting international human rights standards; repeal the Vested Property Act and commit to restoring or providing compensation for properties seized, including to the heirs of original owners; rescind the 2004 order banning Ahmadi publications, and ensure adequate police response to attacks against Ahmadis; enforce all provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accords and ensure that members of all tribal communities are afforded the full rights of Bangladeshi citizenship; ensure that the National Human Rights Commission is truly independent, adequately funded, inclusive of women and minorities, and given a broad mandate that includes freedom of religion or belief; include in all public and madrassas school curricula, textbooks, and teacher trainings information on tolerance and respect for freedom of religion or belief; and ensure that members of minority communities have equal access to government services and public employment, including in the judiciary and high-level government positions.
Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, May 2011 (Covering April 1, 2010 – March 31, 2011)