HC demands explanation on Islam as ‘state religion’ in B'desh



Dhaka: The Bangladesh High Court on Wednesday demanded an explanation from the government on legal grounds of keeping Islam as the country's state religion, amid demands to restore the secular character of 1972 constitution.

"The High Court today issued rule on the authorities concerned asking to show cause in eight days why declaration of Islam as the state religion of the Republic should not be declared illegal and ultra vires to the Constitution," a court official said.

The two-member High Court bench comprising judges Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Gobinda Chandra Tagore also appointed 11 senior lawyers and jurists as "amici curiae" or 'friends of the court' to place their opinions on the issue.

The order came on a long-pending writ petition by 15 distinguished Bangladeshis filed in 1988 just after the then government of military ruler turned politician president HM Ershad incorporated a provision in the constitution declaring Islam as the state religion under the Eighth Amendment to the constitution.

The court fixed June 16 for holding hearing on the issue while parliamentary speaker Abdul Hamid Advocate and the law secretary were made respondents of the rule.

The writ was moved 23 years after the filing of the petition as one of the petitioners' journalist Faiz Ahmed took initiatives to get it heard by submitting a supplementary affidavit.

The development came five days after the main grouping of religious minority communities warned of tough actions against reported government plans to keep Islam as the state religion as initiatives were underway to amend the constitution.

"Any suicidal decision by the incumbent Awami League-led coalition which is imbued with the spirit of 1971 Liberation War will force the religious minority communities to rethink about their stance," said the Rana Dasgupta of Hindu Boudhha Christian Oikya Parishad at a press conference.

The statement said country's nearly 2.5 crore minority people out of over 15 crore population were "deeply concerned" as a parliamentary constitution amendment committee reportedly decided not to touch the constitutional provision.

The Parishad decided to observe the June 9 as the "Black Day" coinciding with the 23rd anniversary of introducing Islam as the state religion.

The grouping of the 1971 Liberation War veterans Sector Commanders Forum last week threatened to enforce a countrywide general strike and even to go for hunger strike if the constitution was amended retaining Islam as the state religion provisions allowing religion-based politics.

The forum, which is headed by planning minister of the incumbent government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and liberation wartime deputy commander in chief of the freedom fighters air vice marshal AK Khandkar demanded that the constitution should be restored as it was adopted in 1972.

"The government will push the country to the brink of destruction if it does not settle these issues," Khandkar said. The original 1972 constitution contained four state principles with secularism being one of them which was scrapped during the subsequent rule of army general turned politician Ziaur Rahman.

PTI