DHAKA — Bangladesh's Supreme Court has reinstated a ban on Islamic political parties in the latest blow to religious hardliners in the impoverished South Asian country, a minister said Thursday.
In a detailed, 184-page verdict released late Wednesday, the Supreme Court scrapped the bulk of the 1979 fifth amendment, including provisions that had allowed religious political parties to flourish and legalised military rule.
"Secularism will again be the cornerstone of our constitution," law minister Shafiq Ahmed told AFP on Thursday.
After independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh's first constitution made secularism a key pillar. Following a 1975 coup, the army-led government amended the constitution's guiding principle to "faith in Allah" in 1979.
Religious parties, which were banned in the original 1971 constitution but legalised by the 1979 amendments, are now banned again as the "faith in Allah" provision has been thrown out, said Ahmed.
"Islamic parties cannot use religion in politics any more," he said.
In 1988, a second military-led government made Islam the state religion in the Muslim-majority nation and incorporated Koranic verse into the constitution. Neither of those changes are affected by the court verdict.
"But following the scrapping of the fifth amendment, these later amendments can now be challenged in court," Ahmed said.
In the verdict, which was issued in January but became trapped in an appeals process until Wednesday, the Supreme Court also declared the 1975-1990 military rule illegal, and recommended punishing military dictators, Ahmed said.
"This means that, in theory, any Bangladeshi citizen could initiate a lawsuit against a former military dictator," he said, adding that the repeal of the amendment would also limit the possibility of a future military coup.
"It is a landmark verdict," Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik, who is also dean of law at the private BRAC university told AFP, adding that lawmakers would now have to clarify how the verdict would be applied by law.
Since the Awami League's landslide election win over the Islamist-allied Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in 2008, the government has cracked down on Islamic groups and parties.
BNP founding father, Ziaur Rahman, put the 1979 amendments in place during his 1975-1981 rule. The party, now led by his widow, Khaleda Zia, appealed the Supreme Court's first ruling on the amendments in January.
"We are now studying this verdict," BNP spokesman, Khandaker Delwar Hossain, who is also secretary general of the party, told AFP.
The government outlawed one Islamic party in October last year, accusing it of destabilising the country.
Four other Islamist organisations, including the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh, were earlier banned after they carried out a series of nationwide bombings that left 28 people dead in 2005.
This week, four leaders of the country's largest Islamic party, BNP-allied Jamaat-e-Islami, were arrested by the country's fledgling war crimes court, set up to try those responsible for atrocities during the 1971 independence war.
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