Bangladesh Court Rules Top Islamic Party Can’t Contest Election

A top Bangladesh court ruled the registration of the nation’s biggest Islamic group as a political party illegal, barring it from contesting next year’s election and deepening concerns over growing violence.

Yesterday’s verdict by the Dhaka High Court was in response to a 2009 petition claiming that Jamaat-e-Islami, an opponent of the current governing party, does not believe in democracy or the sovereignty of Bangladesh. Several of Jamaat’s leaders have this year been sentenced to jail or death by a tribunal judging crimes during the country’s war of independence four decades ago, sparking deadly unrest.

“This is the first step toward banning Jamaat from politics,” State Minister for Law Qamrul Islam told reporters in Dhaka after the verdict. Ekattor TV reported that two judges on a three-judge bench agreed on the illegality, while one dissented.

Violence has erupted across Bangladesh this year as the war tribunal reopened wounds that led to the founding of the country in 1971. With more verdicts expected and national elections due by January, there is a “significant risk” that Bangladesh could descend into a cycle of violence and lawlessness, Human Rights Watch said in a report yesterday.

Jamaat condemned the court ruling and called on supporters to enforce a 48-hour shutdown starting Aug. 12 to protest the verdict, after the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

‘Political Motive’

“The verdict is a reflection of the government’s political motive,” Rafiqul Islam Khan, acting secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, said in a statement. “It’s a wrong decision by the High Court,” Khan said. “The court did not take into account the arguments placed by our lawyers. It’s a threat to democracy and the rule of law.”

Jamaat sided with Pakistan’s army during the independence conflict in a bid to prevent the founding of Bangladesh. Jamaat, an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has called the war tribunal politically motivated. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s government says it is purely aimed at righting a historic injustice.

More than 150 people were killed, including seven children, and at least 2,000 others were injured in clashes between security forces and supporters of Jamaat and another Islamic group between February and early May amid protests over the tribunal’s rulings, Human Rights Watch said. It interviewed 95 victims, witnesses, journalists, lawyers and human rights workers. Police officers were among those who died, it found.

Divine Law

The Jamaat constitution does not recognize the nation’s parliament and its legitimate ability to enact laws, according to the petition, which was filed by members of the Bangladesh Tariqat Federation, a group which promotes Sufi Islamic beliefs.

Jamaat acknowledges only divine law, the federation argued, and aims to establish an undemocratic and unconstitutional regime in Bangladesh.

In 2008, the Election Commission listed Jamaat as a registered political party in violation of the nation’s constitution and the Representation of People Order Ordinance, a set of rules that regulate the activities of political parties, according to the petition.

The court “ruling means Jamaat lost its registration as a political party,” lawyer Shahdeen Malik, who was present in court, said in comments broadcast live on television. “If the party wants to take part in the next election, it will have to seek re-registration from the Election Commission after reforming its constitution.”

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