Dhaka: In a landmark ruling, Bangladesh`s biggest right-wing party Jamaat-e-Islami was on Thursday declared "illegal" by the High Court which banned it from contesting future polls, leaving the once-most powerful fundamentalist party with an uncertain future.
"It is hereby declared illegal," said Moazzem Husain, the chief judge of a High Court panel hearing the case, amid tight security outside the courthouse here.
"By majority, rule is made absolute and registration given to Jamaat by the Election Commission is declared illegal and void," Justice Husain said.
The verdict will prevent the Islamist party from contesting the forthcoming Parliamentary Election due end of this year or early next.
The bench of Justices Husain, M Enayetur Rahim and Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque pronounced the judgement accepting a writ petition that challenged the legality of Jamaat-e-Islami`s registration as a political party.
Bangladesh Tariqat Federation`s secretary general Rezaul Haque Chandpuri and 24 others had filed the writ petition on January 25, 2009. Tariqat is a group that preaches Sufi philosophy and promotes secularism.
In the petition, they said Jamaat-e-Islami was a religion-based political party and it did not believe in independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh.
The Tariqat Federation claimed in the petition that the Representation of People Order (RPO) law does not allow the registration of a communal outfit as a political party.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the verdict meant Jamaat would no more be qualified to contest the General Elections.
Police and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) men enforced a strict vigil around the court complex as tensions mounted ahead of the verdict while officials said they also kept prepared extra forces to face any law and order situation.
But no street protest was staged by Jamaat, a crucial ally of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) headed by former prime minister Khaleda Zia.
Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said Jamaat is likely to challenge the High Court verdict and the government would await the highest court`s judgment and then might "take a decision if the party should be banned".
Today`s verdict comes amid intensified demands for outlawing the Jamaat, blamed for "crimes against humanity" during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
The left-leaning and youth groups opposed the party, saying it does not believe in the very emergence of Bangladesh while its leaders and activists carried out massive atrocities siding with Pakistani troops in the 1971 war.
A high-powered special tribunal earlier this month called Jamaat a "criminal organisation" as it delivered verdict against the party`s then East Pakistan wing chief Ghulam Azam on war crimes charges.
The 91-year-old supremo was sentenced to 90-year in jail this month for masterminding atrocities during the 1971 war.
So far, five Jamaat leaders have been sentenced to death for murder, mass murder, rape and religious persecution in the 1971 war since the trial of war crimes suspects began in 2010, triggering violent protests across the country.
In a report released today, New York-based Human Rights Watch said violent protests over the verdicts so far left at least 150 people dead in places of Jamaat`s stronghold.
But tens of thousands of people staged round-the-clock sit in demonstrations and candle lit vigils, demanding banning of Jamaat and maximum punishment for its leaders.
Jammat came under massive public outrage afresh in 2007 after it denied its role during the liberation war calling the allegations against the party "all false and ill-motivated" and saying the "anti-liberation forces never existed".
Founded by Maulana Maududi in 1941 in British India, Jamaat became the main Islamist political party in both Pakistan and India after the partition in 1947.
Immediately after the independence, Jamaat was banned but it reappeared on the political arena after a military putsch on August 15, 1975 when Bangladesh`s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed along with most of his family members.
The coup also toppled the post-independence secular Awami League government while the subsequent regimes allowed the religion-based parties, including Jamaat, to return to politics lifting a previous ban under the 1972 Constitution.
A political party which wanted to contest polls must get registration from the election commission while Tariqat Foundation said the commission registered Jamaat on November 14, 2008 in violation of the country`s Constitution and the spirit of the RPO.