Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Bangladesh HC questiones 'Islam' in Constitution

Bangladesh High Court on Wednesday issued a rule upon the government to explain as to why inclusion of the state religion ‘Islam’ in the Constitution by its Eighth Amendment should not be declared unconstitutional and ultra vires.

Following a writ petition of 1988, a bench of the HC comprising Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury and Justice Gobindra Chandra Tagore passed the order.

The bench fixed June 16 for hearing on the rule. Before the date, Secretary of the Ministry of Law and Speaker of the Parliament have to reply to the rule.

The HC asked the respondents to explain as to why insertion of the Article 2A in the Constitution, which included the state religion, by its Eighth Amendment passed in the Parliament on June 5, 1988 should not be declared unconstitutional and illegal.

The Article 2A states, “The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic”. The then President HM Ershad approved the Amendment on June 9, 1988.

The long pending petition filed about 22 years ago was moved for hearing in the court by the petitioners’ lawyer Advocate Subrata Chowdhury under a changed circumstance, where the higher court declared the 5th, 7th, 8th and 13th Amendments to the Constitution illegal.

The court appointed 11 senior lawyers of the Supreme Court as amici curiae (friends of the court) to give their opinions on the matter.

They are: Dr Kamal Hossain, TH Khan, M Amir-Ul Islam, Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, Dr M Zahir, Mahmudul Islam, Rokon Uddin Mahmud, Ajmalul Hossain QC, Yusuf Hossain Humayun, AFM Mejbah Uddin and Abdul Matin Khasru.

After insertion of the Article 2A in the Constitution during the HM Ershad government’s Parliament in 1988, a movement was waged against it at that time in the country.

Led by former Chief Justice Kemal Uddin Hossain, a ‘committee against autocracy and communalism’ was also formed to protest it. The committee demanded cancellation of state religion in the Constitution.

As part of committee’s movement, 15 distinguished persons filed the writ petition with the HC in 1988. Of them, five namely Begum Sufia Kamal, Justice Devesh Chandra Bhattacharjee, Justice KM Sobhan, Barrister Syed Istiaque Ahmed and Kalim Sharafi have already passed away.

Other 10 persons, who are now considered as petitioners, are former Chief Justice Kemal Uddin Hossain, Khan Sarwar Murshid, Prof Kabir Chowdhury, Prof Dr Mosharraf Hossain, Maj Gen (reetd) Chitta Ranjan Dutta (Bir Uttam), Prof Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, Dr Badaruddin Umar, journalist Faiz Ahmed, Dr Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir and Prof Anisuzzaman.

Faiz Ahmed on behalf of other petitioners filed a supplementary affidavit on Wednesday in a changed situation.

After the apex court declared illegal the 5th Amendment that reinstated secularism, an initiative to move the writ petition was taken.

But the petitioners could not do so as the file of long pending writ petition was lost at the concerned section of the HC, Advocate Subrata Chowdhury told The New Nation.

After hearing yesterday, Subrata told reporters that the HC benches were decentralised to the divisions and Islam was made ‘state religion’ by the 8th Amendment.

Afterwards, the HC declared its decentralisation illegal following a writ petition but other part of the Amendment on state religion was left in the Constitution. No political government later decided on the matter.

At present, the petitioners decided to move the petition being aggrieved that the special parliamentary committee on constitutional amendment suggested retaining ‘Islam’ as the state religion in the Constitution, Subrata added.

The inclusion of state religion had prompted the organisation “Hindu, Buddha, Christian Oikya Parishad” to launch protest.

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