Bangladesh court upholds 2013 ban

Islamist party barred from elections

Bangladesh's largest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami's lawyer Matiur Rahman Akanda, addresses journalists after Bangladesh's highest court dismissed their appeal seeking overturn of a previous High Court decision cancelling its registration with the Election Commission in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sunday, Nov.19, 2023. The decision means Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party is not eligible to contest any polls as a party. Bangladesh will hold its next national elections on Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Bangladesh's highest court on Sunday dismissed an appeal by the country's largest Islamist party seeking to overturn a 2013 ruling that barred it from participating in elections for violating the constitutional provision of secularism.

Bangladesh is set to hold its next national elections on Jan. 7.

A five-member bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Obaidul Hassan handed out the ruling. Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami's main lawyer did not appear before the court because of "personal problems" and his petition, filed previously, seeking to postpone the hearing for six weeks was also rejected.

The High Court's decision 10 years ago canceled the party's registration with the Election Commission, thus stopping it from participating in elections or using party symbols. But it did not ban it from political participation.

The ruling, at the time, came amid calls to ban the party for opposing the country's 1971 independence war against Pakistan. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after coming to power in 2009, sought to try Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami's top leaders for their role in acts of genocide and war crimes during the country's independence war. Some have been hanged or given life sentences since 2013.

"The verdict of the High Court has been upheld," Tania Amir, a lawyer who stood against the Jamaat-e-Islami party, said Sunday.

"If [Jamaat-e-Islami attempts] any meetings, rallies or gatherings or identify their party as legal to any high commission, embassy, foreign agency or state, we are at liberty to bring a new charge of contempt of court against them and an injunction," she said.

But Matiur Rahman Akanda, a lawyer for the party, said that it would continue to be politically active.

"The court gave its opinion on whether the registration [with the Election Commission] will be upheld," he said. "There is no way to ban politics constitutionally."

There have long been multiple calls in Bangladesh by secular forces and others to ban the Islamist party, but the government has not complied.

The United States also considers it a moderate Islamist party.

Despite Sunday's decision by the High Court, it again remained unclear if Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami could continue its activities. Usually, the Ministry of Home Affairs is the entity that bans radical groups deemed as antistate.

Jamaat-e-Islami has been a key partner to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who has been the archrival of the current head of government, Hasina, for decades. The Islamist party and Zia shared power in 2001-2006 when the latter was the premier.

In January, Hasina will seek to return to power for a fourth consecutive term, while Zia's party has threatened to boycott the polls. The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami says they also will boycott elections under Hasina.