03/29/2016, 13.09
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Dhaka High Court rejects petition: Islam remains state religion

The courts ascertain that the drafters of the petition, first advanced 28 years ago, lack the constitutional ability to do so. Secretary of Justice and Peace: "Saddened, when we receive the full judgment will decide whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court".

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - The Bangladeshi High Court has rejected the petition calling for the abolition of Islam as the state religion. The courts have made it clear that their rejection is rooted in a procedural problem: those who advanced the request lack the constitutional right to do so. The decision was greeted with joy by hundreds of Muslims who marched through the streets of Dhaka to celebrate.

The decision to question the state religion was first advanced 28 years ago by a petition submitted by writers, educators and activists, with the goal of reducing violence by Islamic radicals against religious minorities. With the passage of time many drafters of the petition have died, and others have taken their place to carry on the legal battle. Some believe that the decision to consider the petition now is proof of growing pressure on the Hasina government to curb the most fundamentalist Islamic movements.

The Christian community has welcomed the overall proposal. The Islamic community is instead divided between those who support the "constitutionality" of the religious element in a country where Muslims account for 90% of the population, and those who believe that the state should "represent all citizens equally”.

In the first Constitution of Bangladesh, launched in 1971 after achieving independence from Pakistan, the confessional element was absent. In 1988 with the eighth amendment of the military authorities Islam became  the official religion.
According to the petitioners and activists in recent months, the Islamic religion has been used to "justify" a series of violent acts and discrimination against Christians, Hindus and Shiites. Minorities are the target of ruthless fundamentalists attacking private property of Christians, churches as well as Hindu priests, bloggers, writers and activists guilty of being "atheists".

Theophil Nokrek, secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, told AsiaNews: "It is a decision that saddens us. Our nation was born secular, but with the dictator HM Ershad has assumed an Islamic character to give the government political benefits. And now we, members of minorities, are victims of that decision". Once we receive the full text of the judgment, he concludes, "we will decide whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court".

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