DHAKA (Reuters) - Legal action to drop Islam as Bangladesh’s state religion has been revived after 28 years, and the High Court has agreed to hear the case later this month.
Bangladesh’s 1971 constitution originally declared all religions were equal in the eyes of the state. However, military ruler Hussain Mohammad Ershad amended it in 1988 to make Islam the state religion.
Ershad’s action led a group of 12 citizens to file a writ with the High Court to overturn the amendment. But Shahriar Kabir, who convened the group, said the members soon decided not to go ahead with the case.
“After filing the case, we realized that the bench would not be favorable for us, so we did not move further,” Shahriar told Reuters on Monday.
Then the current government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, again amended the constitution. The new amendment reinstated the principle of secularism but also reaffirmed Islam as the state religion.
The court action brought by Shahriar’s group essentially seeks to resolve that contradiction. The High Court will hear the case on March 27.
“It will take long time to get any decision,” said Rana Dasgupta, a government prosecutor. “The nature of the case is time-consuming. The High Court will continue to hear from both parties and then will deliver its verdict.”
The move to reaffirm Bangladesh as a secular nation comes amid a wave of militant violence in recent months, including a series of bomb attacks against mosques and Hindu temples.
Some of the attacks, including the killing of a Hindu priest, have been claimed by Islamic State. The militant group has also aid it was behind the killings of a Japanese citizen, an Italian aid worker and a policeman.
The government denies that Islamic State has a presence in the Muslim-majority country of 160 million people.
Reporting By Serajul Quadir, editing by Larry King