B`deshi religious parties face ban, secularism `cornerstone`

Last Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010 - 21:45

Dhaka: Islamist parties in Bangladesh
face a ban from politics after the controversial 1979 fifth
amendment was struck down by the Supreme Court in a landmark
ruling that also paved the way for ensuring secularism as the
"cornerstone" of the country`s constitution.

Following the Appellate Division`s decision upholding
the High Court`s landmark verdict that declared the
Constitution`s 1979 Fifth Amendment illegal, restrictions on
formation of organisations based on religion were restored.
"Carrying out activities of any political party based
on religion is now punishable offence under the special powers
act," Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said.

Political parties and other organisations using
religion as their guidelines now stand banned with
cancellation of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, he
said.

Their activities are now punishable offence, he was
quoted as saying in the media.

The Supreme Court ruling sets the stage to ban
religious parities like the country`s largest Islamist party
like Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Law Minister said the Supreme Court ruling on
fifth amendment has paved the way for ensuring secular,
multiparty democracy and development in the country.

"By a historical judgement of our Supreme Court,
secularism has been restored paving the way for the state to
ensure secular multiparty democracy to move forward with its
agenda of development," Ahmed said.

"Secularism will again be the cornerstone of our
constitution," Ahmed said.
The 1979 Fifth Amendment was aimed to provide
constitutional legitimacy to the governments in power ?
military or otherwise ? following the 1975 assassination of
the country`s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

In April 1979 the legislature in Bangladesh ratified
the 5th Amendment which provided that all amendments,
additions, modifications made in the Constitution during the
period between August 15, 1975 and April 9, 1979 were valid
and would not be called in question before any judicial body
of the country

Bangladesh`s top court put on record its "total
disapproval of martial law" in the country and suggested
"suitable punishment" to perpetrators as it issued on Tuesday
the full text of a key judgement that made the 5th amendment
legalising military takeover unconstitutional.

In a detailed verdict, the apex court scrapped the
bulk of the 1979 fifth amendment, including provisions that
had allowed Religious political parties to flourish and
legalised military rule.

The original constitution of 1972 embodied four
fundamental principles of nationalism, socialism, democracy,
and secularism. Socialism was dropped and secularism was
replaced by Islamic republic.

Bangladesh banned religion-based politics after it
gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, but an amendment to
the country`s constitution in 1979 allowed Islamic parties to
operate again.

In 1988, a second military-led government made Islam
the state religion in the Muslim-majority nation and
incorporated Koranic verse into the constitution. Neither of
those changes are affected by the court verdict.
The High Court in a ruling in August 2005 declared the
Fifth Amendment illegal in response to a petition challenging
the legality of the Martial Law Regulation of 1977.

The judgement, however, said it was the Parliament
which could make a law regarding punitive actions against the
perpetrators.

The Supreme Court issued the full text of the 184-page
judgement five months after the apex court pronounced the main
order portion of the verdict, rejecting two leave-to-appeal
petitions and upholding the 2005 High Court order but with
some modifications.

The development comes two weeks after the ruling Awami
League constituted a special parliamentary panel to review the
constitution in a bid to restore the "secular" spirit of 1971
`Liberation War`.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ruling Awami League
government today welcomed the landmark apex court verdict
banning the use of religion in politics and declaring illegal
past martial laws.

The party called the judgement as a ?milestone? for
the country’s democratic process.

The Appellate Division (of the Supreme Court)
judgement will be regarded as a milestone for the democratic
process of the country,? Ahmed told PTI, two days after the
apex court issued the full text of its February 2 judgement.

Ahmed said under the judgement, the religion-based
parties including the Islamic ones became ineligible to
carryout their politics but "it now the responsibility of the
independent Election Commission to review the constitutions
and activities of these parties".

The secularism would automatically be restored in the
constitution in line with the Liberation War spirit with this
judgment... formation of a democratic, non communal society
where religion is the matter of anybody?s private affair is
also the spirit of Islam,? he said.

Main opposition BNP, which has close alliance with the
largest Islamist party Jamaat, did not make any immediate
comment on the judgment.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, July 29, 2010 - 21:45

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