The High Court has cancelled the registration of the Jamaat-e-Islami which opposed Bangladesh’s independence and many of whose leaders are now facing trials or have been convicted by special war crimes tribunals.
It will prevent the party from contesting the looming parliament elections due end of this year or early next if it loses appeal in the Supreme Court.
Jamaat has moved the Supreme Court to overturn the verdict and if that does not happen, it will only be left with the option to amend its charter and apply for registration all over again. But that could be take time.
The bench of justices M Moazzam Husain, M Enayetur Rahim, and Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque announced the verdict on Thursday, cancelling Jamaat's registration.
“By majority, the rule is made absolute and registration given to Jamaat by the Election Commission is declared illegal and void,” Justice Husain said.
The verdict comes at a time when the demand for outlawing the party, blamed for war crimes during the Liberation War, has been mounting.
The full verdict will be published later, the court said.
The Jamaat termed it a ‘wrong verdict’ which merely ‘reflected the government’s political vengeance’ and has decided to hit the nation with a 48-hour shutdown beginning Aug 12.
In 2008, during the military-backed caretaker government, the EC made it mandatory for political parties to register if they wanted to contest polls. Jamaat, a key ally of the BNP, registered with alongside 37 other parties.
A total of 25 persons, including Bangladesh Tariqat Federation’s Secretary General Syed Rezaul Haque Chandpuri, Jaker Party’s Secretary General Munshi Abdul Latif and Sammilita Islami Jote’s President Ziaul Hasan, moved the court challenging Jamaat’s registration in January the following year.
The petition mainly argued on four points.
First, the Jamaat in principle does not recognise people as the source of all powers and also the undisputed power of the people’s representatives to make laws.
Secondly, the RPO prohibits registration of communal parties, and ‘it is clear from the acts and beliefs of the Jamaat that it is a communal party.
Thirdly, a registered political party cannot in any way discriminate on grounds of religion or gender. But the Jammat's charter does not allow any woman or non-Muslim to hold its top post.
And fourthly, the Jamaat is a chapter of a foreign organisation born in India with units all over the world.
On Jan 27, 2009, the High Court issued a ruling asking the EC to explain as to why the party’s registration should not be declared illegal.
The case was later shifted to the bench of Justice AHM Shamsuddin Choudury but after partial hearing, the bench’s authority to hear the matter further was altered.
Later it was shifted to a larger bench which finished hearing the plea on Jun 12 this year.
‘Jamaat at a glance’
Arguably the largest Islamist organisation in the sub-continent, Jamaat, started its journey on Aug 26, 1941 under the leadership of Syed Abul A’la Moududi with the name Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.
It was briefly banned in Pakistan in 1964 for opposing the Muslim Family Act.
The party opposed the separation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh was known then. It sternly positioned itself against the Bangalees’ struggle for freedom.
It was banned for another spell after religion-based politics was outlawed in Bangladesh after independence.
Military rules followed the assassination of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Military ruler General Ziaur Rahman, who founded the BNP, allowed Jamaat to enter politics in Bangladesh.
Shortly after, its chief Ghulam Azam returned in 1979 and took helm.
After the fall of HM Ershad’s autocratic regime, the party bagged 18 seats in the 1991 general elections and rode to power as a partner of the BNP.
It secured 17 seats in the 2001 polls and two of its leaders served as ministers in Khaleda Zia’s Cabinet.
Jamaat got only two seats in the ninth national election held in 2008 in which the Awami League-led coalition won a landslide.
Several of Jamaat’s top leaders have been convicted of war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War and several others are standing trial on similar charges.
The two war crimes tribunals, dealing with such crimes, observed in several of their verdicts that the party had sided with the Pakistan army to thwart Bangladesh’s birth.
The International Crimes Tribunal-2 said, “Jamaat-e-Islami, as an organisation, substantially contributed in creating the para-militia forces (auxiliary force) for combating the unarmed Bengali civilians in the name of protecting Pakistan.”
According to the tribunals, the party and its student front Islami Chhatra Sangha, as it was known then, had formed various colluding forces like the Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams and committed widespread crimes across Bangladesh.
While sentencing Jamaat ideologue Ghulam Azam to 90 years in prison for war crimes, ICT-1 termed the party a ‘criminal organisation’.
The tribunal stated that Jamaat had played a ‘foul role’ during independence.
“… We are led to observe that Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party under the leadership of accused Prof. Ghulam Azam intentionally functioned as a ‘Criminal Organisation’ especially during the War of Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971,” the judgment stated.
‘No more a political party’
The ruling coalition welcomed the verdict but demanded outlawing Jamaat.
Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbub-ul Alam Hanif said Jamaat “was involved with war crimes”.