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Bangladesh: Muslim Group Plans Protests Over Supreme Court Petition

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2016-03-21
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A policeman fires rubber bullets toward demonstrators during clashes with hardline Muslim protesters in Dhaka, May 5, 2013.
A policeman fires rubber bullets toward demonstrators during clashes with hardline Muslim protesters in Dhaka, May 5, 2013.
AFP

A conservative Muslim group says it plans to stage street protests Friday against a Supreme Court hearing of a petition challenging the status of Islam as Bangladesh’s official religion.

On Sunday the high court is set to hear the petition into the legality of a 28-year-old amendment to the nation’s constitution making Islam the state religion. The constitution guarantees secularism in Bangladesh.

But Hefazat-e-Islam General Secretary Junaid Babunagari warned Monday that “atheism would flood the country” if the court stripped the country’s main religion of its official standing.

“Please give your judgment according to the opinion of the people,” Babunagari told a news conference in Chittagong, according to reports. “There could be indiscipline in case the court judgment goes against Islam.”

Hefazat is a madrassa-based organization that represents 70,000 Islamic schools in the predominantly Muslim country. In May 2013, Hefazat launched violent demonstrations and arson attacks in the capital Dhaka to protest the government’s inaction in enacting a blasphemy law that called for the execution of secular bloggers. Sixty-five people were killed and hundreds were injured during the protests.

The names of five bloggers who were murdered in separate machete attacks since February 2013 were on a list of 84 people threatened by Hefazat-e-Islam, a group that wants to impose Sharia law in Bangladesh, reports said. Four of the bloggers were killed last year alone.

“[W]e have to remain alert. … I request the court to reject it,” the Hefazat leader said of the petition.

‘Situation may heat up’

The petition before the high court dates to 1988 when then-military ruler Gen. H.M. Ershad amended the constitution which in 1972 had adopted secularism as one of the nation’s four founding principles.

Fifteen civil society leaders in 1988 filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court challenging the amendment’s constitutionality, but the court never heard the case.

Commenting on Monday’s announcement by Babunagari, political analysts suggested that Hefazat was trying to whip up pro-Islamic sentiment.

“Capitalizing on the issue, the Hefazat-e-Islam would certainly try to make it an issue for mobilizing popular support; the political situation may heat up,” researcher and columnist Afsan Chowdhury told BenarNews, referring to the writ petition.

“The ruling Awami League knows very well the sentiment of rural people about Islam and the Hefazat support at the grassroots. So, the Awami League may not be hard on the Hefazat,” he said.

Chowdhury noted that the government had yet to punish any of the group’s leaders for allegedly fomenting the violent protests three years ago.

“[W]hat seems to me is that the government would not allow anything that may loosen its tight grip on politics,” Professor Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a political researcher and author of several books on politics, told BenarNews.

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