08/03/2010, 00.00
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Bangladesh bans Islamic parties

The Supreme Court outlaws the constitutional amendments made during the military regimes from 1970 to 1990, which allowed the rise of Islamic parties in parliament. The measure was presented for the first time in January, but has been blocked for six months because of the appeal demanded by Muslim leaders. Justice Minister: "Secularism is once again the cornerstone of our constitution."

Dhaka (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has reinstated the measure banning Islamic parties. In a document of 184 pages presented July 26 last, the Court has demolished the Fifth Amendment of the 1979Constitution, including provisions that allowed the rise of Islamic parties in parliament during military regimes (1975 - 1979, 1982 - 1990). The measure, introduced for the first time in January, has been blocked for six months because of an appeal process demanded by Islamic leaders.

After independence from Pakistan in 1971, the first constitution of Bangladesh has made secularism one of its key pillars. In 1979 the then military government of Zia Rahman (1975-1979) amended the constitution, with "faith in Allah” as the only guiding principle of the constitution, transforming Bangladesh into an Islamic state. In 1988, a new military government, this time led by Hussain Muhammad Ershad (1982-1990), declared Islam the state religion and "consecrated" the constitution to the Muslim faith, to which several verses from the Koran was added. Since 1990, there ahs been a gradual return to democracy, allowing the High Court in 2005 to develop a first measure to outlaw the constitutional changes made during the military regimes, including the Fifth Amendment. But the action of the Court, supported by the secular parties, was blocked by Islamic extremists allied to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), in government at the time. In 2008 the debate on the Fifth Amendment returned to the fore after the election victory of the secular party Awami League (AL), but only in 2010, did the Court succeed in formalising the decision.

Shafiq Ahmed, Minister of Justice, said the measure will be a blow to the extremist parties that can no longer use religion to political ends.

"Secularism - said the minister - will again be the cornerstone of the constitution." For the moment the court ruling does not provide for the cancellation of the Islamic inspiration of the constitution, but according Shafiq "thanks to the demolition of the Fifth Amendment, the modifications made during the military regimes can now be challenged in court." Moreover, the measure outlaws all those who supported the regimes from 1975 to 1990. "In theory - adds the minister - all citizens of Bangladesh may now bring a lawsuit against the former military dictator. The repeal of the amendment would also limit the possibility of future coups. "
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