Dhaka, Mar 28: A top Bangladeshi court today rejected a 28-year-old petition seeking removal of Islam as the state religion of the Muslim-majority nation, a provision added in the constitution by a former military dictator in 1988.
"The petitioners do not have the locus standi (the right to appear in a court with the petition)," ruled a special bench of Justice Naima Haider, Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque, and Justice Ashraful Kamal.
The bench rejected the petition filed by 15 distinguished Bangladeshis immediately after Islam was declared as the state religion in 1988 by then military-ruler General HM Ershad under the Eighth Amendment Bill.
Today's ruling comes nearly a month after Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha constituted the three-member bench as the legal initiative to drop Islam as Bangladesh's state religion was revived in a belated but routine course.
Ten of the 15 petitioners including a former chief justice and several secular academics and writers died since they filed the petition forming a grouping called "committee to oppose autocracy and religious communalism".
Court officials said the bench was expected to come up with the detailed verdict in writing later but in its brief judgement the bench rejected the writ saying the petitioners did not have the locus standi since they had filed it as an organisation and not as individuals to justify their personal grievances against the provision.
On March 1 the bench had asked the grouping to explain if they had the right to challenge the legality of Article 2A of the Constitution that declares Islam as the state religion.
Several legal experts said the writ was filed as a public interest litigation case, which requires individuals instead of organisations to seek court ruling to address their personal grievances. Today's ruling came as the country's largest Islamist party - Jamaat-e-Islami - called a nationwide strike to protest the legal move.
Over 90 per cent of the population is Muslim, with Hindus and Buddhists the main minorities. Several thousand ultra right Muslims staged a protest on Friday here to denounce the writ.
Qawmi madrasa-based group Hifazat-e-Islam has been threatening to bring Bangladesh to its knees if the court repealed Islam as the state religion. After the ruling, one of the petitioners Subrata Chowdhury said they were "very disappointed" by the High Court order and would think about appealing against the verdict before the Supreme Court.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League party in 2011 amended the constitution with its overwhelming majority in parliament bringing back "secularism" as a pillar of the constitution, but retained Islam as the state religion.
After its independence, Bangladesh adopted "secularism" as one of the four state policies in the constitution.
But the subsequent military ruler Ziaur Rahman scraped the provision replacing it with the principle of "absolute faith in one Allah" while his successor Ershad incorporated an additional provision declaring Islam as the state religion.