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Bangladesh Court Disqualifies Jamaat-e-Islami Party from Elections

Bangladesh's high court has declared the registration of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami illegal, a move praised by some who consider the party extreme and condemned by others as harmful to democracy.

The verdict handed down on August 1, 2013 comes as the final decision on a petition from 25 people, including members of other Islamist parties, which challenged Jamaat’s registration in January 2009.

In 2008, the country's election commission made it mandatory for political parties to register if they wanted to participate in elections. This ruling means Jamaat cannot participate in the upcoming January 2014 parliamentary elections.

The party was already widely criticized for its opposition to Bangladesh’s independence. But the call to limit Jamaat-e-Islami recently intensified during the massive Shahbag protest movement which began in February 2013 (see Global Voices special coverage) and called for capital punishment for war crimes committed during the country’s liberation from Pakistan in 1971. Many of the accused were high-ranking Jamaat members, and in March 2013, top Jamaat-e-Islami party leaders Delwar Hossain Sayeedi and Ali Ahsan Mohammed Muojaheed were sentenced to be hanged by a special war crimes tribunal for their involvement. Several other party officials were found guilty of crimes against humanity and the trials are underway.

Jamaat-Shibir activists once again swooped on law enforcers in Dhaka during a protest against trial of their leaders. Image by Rehman Asad. Copyright Demotix (28/1/2013)

Jamaat activists attacked law enforcers in Dhaka during a protest against trial of their leaders accused of war crimes. Image by Rehman Asad. Copyright Demotix (28/1/2013)

Jamaat, as a political party, has a large and ideologically motivated cadre base across Bangladesh and is currently allies with the main opposition BNP. However, many Bangladeshis are skeptic about their use of religion in politics as evident in Bangladesh general election 2008, where it got only 4.6% votes and only 2 seats out of 300 constituents (39 contested). Blogger Jyoti Rahman posted a deeper analysis of the Jamaat factor in Bangladesh politics a few months ago. He talks about Jamaat's financial and ideological ecosystem:

In the quarter century since the party’s relaunch, the Jamaat has made considerable inroads in several non-state sectors as well. Islami Bank, whose management is affiliated with the Jamaat, has become the third largest bank in the country. Jamaat-supported hospitals and coaching centres provide affordable health care and education to urban, working and the lower middle classes. The party has particularly strong financial ties with countries in the Gulf, which helps with these enterprises. Funding and ideological support also comes from the radical Islamic discourse among the diaspora Bangladeshi community in the UK.

The petition, in its argument against Jamaat's registration, listed four main points about Jamaat that violate Bangladesh's constitution:

1) Jamaat in principle does not recognize the undisputed power of the people’s representatives to make laws.

2) Election Commission prohibits registration of communal parties

3) Discrimination on ground of religion or gender: Jammat's charter does not allow any woman or non-Muslim to hold its top post

4) Not locally registered – the Jamaat is a chapter of a foreign organization born in India with units all over the world.

Bangladesh Jamat e Islami protesting

Bangladesh Jamat e Islami protesting HC rule cancelling their registration in capital Dhaka. Image by Mehedi Hasan. Copyright Demotix (1/8/2013)

On Monday, 5th of August the vacation bench of the Appellate Division turned down the plea of Jamaat-e-Islami seeking a stay on the operation of the High Court (HC) verdict declaring illegal its registration as a political party. However Jamaat can appeal to the Appellate Division on the HC verdict when the court resumes from vacation. The party has declared a nationwide 48 hour strike from 12th of August, 2013 protesting the High Court verdict.

Meanwhile, the High Court has summoned Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, asking them to explain why calling strikes against its verdict should not be treated as contempt of court.

Many netizens expressed their satisfaction after hearing of the cancellation. Saqeena Quashim (@SaqeenaQuasim) wrote on Twitter:

Blogger Kazi Mamun compared Jamaat with gangrene and mentioned on Facebook:

‘ইনহিউম্যান’ বলেন আর যাই বলেন, আই ডোন্ট কেয়ার! জামাত হলো একটা গ্যাংগ্রিন এর মতো। কেটে সমূলে উৎপাদন না করা হলে কোনো লাভ নেই!

Call it ‘inhuman’ or not, I don't care. Jamaat is like a gangrene. You can't stop the degradation if they can't be uprooted.

Diaspora Twitter user Zara Kadir (@zarakadir) could not accept the cancellation of Jamaat's registration, arguing that this will be a hindrance to democracy:

Rozob Ali (@RozobAli) reminded people that almost 89 percent of Bangladeshis are Muslims, so Islamist politics cannot be stopped by banning Jamaat-e-Islami:

Azad Ali (@azadaliCCM) noted that the petition for Jamaat's registration to be canceled was indeed moved by a number of Islamist parties:

The cancellation of Jamaat's registration with the election commission had many confused as if Jamaat has been banned as a political party. Blogger and activist Kallol Mustafa cleared this confusion in a Facebook post:

জামাতে ইসলামিকে নির্বাচন কমিশনের দেয়া নিবন্ধন অবৈধ ঘোষণা করা আর জামাতের রাজনীতি নিষিদ্ধ করা দুইটা কিন্তু একেবারে ভিন্ন বিষয়। হাইকোর্টের রায়ে নির্বাচন কমিশনে জামাতের নিবন্ধন অবৈধ ঘোষিত হওয়ার পর, হাইকোর্টের রায় অনুযায়ী নির্বাচন কমিশন জামাতের নিবন্ধন বাতিল করলে, দল হিসেবে জামাতে ইসলামি নির্বাচন করতে পারবে না কিন্তু জামাতের দলীয় রাজনীতি কিংবা রাজনৈতিক কর্মকান্ড কিন্তু তাতে নিষিদ্ধ হয় না।

The declaration of Jamaat's registration illegal with the election commission and banning Jamaat's politics are totally different things. After this high court ruling, if the election commission indeed cancels Jamaat's registration, it will not be able to participate in future elections. But it does not deter them from carrying out party politics.

Depiction of Jamaat leaders in street art during Shahbag protests. Image from Flickr by Mehdi Hasan. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Depiction of Jamaat leaders accused of war crimes in street art during Shahbag protests. Image from Flickr by Mehdi Hasan. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Some argue that Jamaat uses Islam for their own benefits. In 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation war, members used religion to justify their purge of Hindus and carrying out killings, rape and destruction on Bengalis. Renowned singer and blogger/activist Maksudul Haque wrote on Facebook:

‘নিবন্ধন বাতিল’ নিয়ে চতুর্দিকে যখন ‘চেতনার’ জয়গান তখন আমার কোনো আনন্দ নেই। নিষিদ্ধ করুন… তাতেও আমার কাছে নো বিগ ডিল… এদের পাপ ক্ষমার অযোগ্য… ইসলাম থেকে এই হায়েনাদের খারিজ করুন, বুকে ইমান রাখুন মজবুত এবং বীর দর্পে বলুন… ‘এরা মুসলমান না এরা কাফের’ সেদিনই শহীদানের আত্মা শান্তি পাবে… সেদিন বাংলাদেশে ইসলাম কলঙ্কমুক্ত হবে…

When everybody is celebrating the cancellation of registration of Jamaat, I do not rejoice. Ban them.. that won't be a big deal for me…Their sin is unforgivable… Purge these hyenas from Islam, keep faith in you and boldly say, “They are not Muslims, they are disbelievers”.. Only then those who gave their lives will rest in peace… that day Islam in Bangladesh will be free of sins.

The Islamist political party has previously been banned a number of times since its birth in 1941. They were banned in Pakistan in 1959 and in 1964 and in Bangladesh in 1972. In 1979 they were again allowed to work as a political party. Lawyer and Twitter user Shah Ali Forhad (@shah_farhad) observed:

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