A high court in Bangladesh rejected a petition Monday that challenged a constitutional provision recognizing Islam as the state religion. The bench, headed by Justice Naima Haider, Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque and Justice Ashraful Kamal, said that secular petitioners do not have the right to file the writ petition, according to local reports.
The public interest litigation was filed by 15 noted personalities in the country after the passage of the Eighth Amendment Bill on June 7, 1988, which declared Islam as the state religion, Dhaka Tribune, a local newspaper, reported. Many of those who filed the petition have since passed away. The case was not taken onto the discussion table until last August when Supreme Court lawyer Somendra Nath Goswami filed another petition challenging the state religion provision saying that it was against the basic secular structure of the state.
Goswami also asked for a justification for holding on to the clause despite the government restoring secularism through the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 2011, the Dhaka Tribune reported Monday. The petition was heard on Aug. 30, 2015, and rejected by the court on Sept. 7. This February, Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha created a three-member bench to hear the 1988 petition after a prayer was submitted on behalf of the petitioners.
Bangladesh's largest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami called for a nationwide strike on Monday to protest the move to repeal Islam as the state's religion, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
“Bangladesh is a 90 percent Muslim nation,” the group said in a statement, according to AFP, adding: “The people will never accept any government move to remove Islam as the state religion from the constitution in an effort to please a handful of anti-religion persons.”
Subrata Chowdhury, who represented the secular activists in the case, said: “We are saddened (at the ruling). It’s a sad day for the minorities of Bangladesh.” He also said that the court did not allow the petitioners to state their case or present any arguments in the case. “The judges simply said the rule is discharged,” Chowdhury said, according to AFP.
Last Friday, about 7,000 activists came out on the streets in Dhaka to protest the high court’s decision to hear the plea and chanted anti-government slogans.
"We've sufficient security arrangements in the capital to prevent any violence or any act of sabotage," Dhaka police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sorder told AFP.
Jamaat-e-Islami reportedly said it held protests in nearly half a dozen neighborhoods in the capital city of Bangladesh.
The latest move by the court may heighten tensions between secularists and hard-liners in the South Asian country, where several atheist bloggers, members of religious minorities and foreign nationals have been killed.