Bangladesh's top court upholds decision barring largest Islamist party from elections

The High Court's decision 10 years ago cancelled Jamaat-e-Islami's registration with the Election Commission, thus stopping it from participating in elections or using party symbols.

Published: 19th November 2023 07:26 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th November 2023 07:27 PM   |  A+A-

Bangladesh's largest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami's lawyer Matiur Rahman Akanda, addresses journalists. (Photo | AP)

By Associated Press

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s highest court on Sunday dismissed an appeal by the country’s largest Islamist party seeking to overturn a 2013 ruling that barred it from participating in elections for violating the constitutional provision of secularism

Bangladesh is set to hold its next national elections on Jan. 7.

A five-member bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Obaidul Hassan handed out the ruling. Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami's main lawyer did not appear before the court due to “personal problems” and his petition, filed previously, seeking to postpone the hearing for six weeks was also rejected.

The High Court's decision 10 years ago cancelled the party's registration with the Election Commission, thus stopping it from participating in elections or using party symbols. But it did not ban it from political participation.

The ruling, at the time, came amid calls to ban the party for opposing the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after coming to power in 2009, sought to try Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami’s top leaders for their role in acts of genocide and war crimes during the country’s independence war. Some have been hanged or given life sentences since 2013.

“The verdict of the High Court has been upheld,” Tania Amir, a lawyer who stood against the Jamaat-e-Islami party, said Sunday.

“If they (Jamaat-e-Islami) attempt any meetings, rallies or gatherings or identify their party as legal to any high commission, embassy, foreign agency or state, we are at liberty to bring a new charge of contempt of court against them and an injunction,” she said.

But Matiur Rahman Akanda, a lawyer for the party, said that it would continue to be politically active.

“The court gave its opinion on whether the registration (with the Election Commission) will be upheld," he said, “there is no way to ban politics constitutionally.”

There have long been multiple calls in Bangladesh by secular forces and others to ban the Islamist party, but the government hasn't complied.

The United States also considers it a moderate Islamist party.

Despite Sunday’s decision by the High Court, it again remained unclear if Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami could continue its activities. Usually, the Ministry of Home Affairs is the entity that bans radical groups deemed as anti-state.

Jamaat-e-Islami has been a key partner to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who has been the archrival of the current head of government, Hasina, for decades. The Islamist party and Zia shared power in 2001-2006 when the latter was the premier

In January, Hasina will seek to return to power for a fourth consecutive term while Zia's party has threatened to boycott the polls. The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami says they also will boycott elections under Hasina.

The memories of the 1971 war with Pakistan are still fresh in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi authorities say, Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people, raped 200,000 women, and forced some 10 million people to flee the country to neighbouring India during the nine-month war in what was then known as East Pakistan, renamed Bangladesh after independence.

India aided then an exiled government led by the country’s independence leader and founding President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina’s father, to win the war against Pakistan.

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