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Home  Worldwide  Bangladesh  February, 2004  Stop using religion for political gains
Stop using religion for political gains

The Daily Star
Vol. 4 Num 267Fri. February 27, 2004

Front Page

Stop using religion for political gains
Discussion on freedom of religion urges parties
Staff Correspondent

All political parties and their leaders must stop exploiting religion for political gains to help establish a society free from religious intolerance and torture on minority community.

This was the unanimous view of participants at a discussion on ‘Freedom of Religion under Article 41 of the Constitution of Bangladesh’ in the capital yesterday.

“It is not the society, the state or majority people who are creating religious intolerance but a small group of people are involved in the act,” Attorney General AF Hassan Ariff said.

“And political opportunism (has been) added to the intolerance,” he said, adding different parties are posing as protectors of separate groups, aggravating the problem.

Religious intolerance cropped up recently with the advent of modern politics and for so-called democratic role of political parties, Ariff said. “Rectify your ideology and strategy,” he asked leaders of political parties.

“The issue is a disgrace for the country and the authorities should publish findings of their probe that found organised effort by some groups to create religious disharmony after the last general election,” said the attorney general, who was the chief guest at the discussion.

Dr Asif Nazrul of Law department of Dhaka University presented the keynote paper on ‘Legal Aspects of Religious Freedom in Bangladesh’ at the discussion organised by rights body Odhikar.

He stressed the necessity of a vigilant civil society for overseeing the implementation of constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom.

US Ambassador Harry K Thomas Jr, who attended the programme as a guest of honour, spoke on how Article 41 of Bangladesh’s constitution deals with religious freedom and how to strike a balance between law, public order and morality and citizens’ religious rights.

“Since the definition of law, public order and morality in the article is open to broad interpretation, it is important to clarify its content and application,” he said. Any potential abuse of the provisions in the article would provide an opportunity for the state to infringe on rights of religious minorities, he added.

Despite general communal harmony, there are continuing reports of violence and intimidation involving members of various religious minority communities, the envoy said.

Expressing his regrets at militant demonstrations against the Ahmadiyyas centring their Dhaka mosque, he termed banning of Ahmadiyya publications ‘disturbing’. He however mentioned government measures to safeguard the mosque. “We understand the government has not issued an official circular or gazette notification formalising this announcement, but the political and psychological impact remains the same,” he said.

Rights organisations and the press can help improve the situation, Thomas said. “But the burden lies on governments to honour and respect the rights of their citizens.”

“Law enforcement agencies should respond swiftly and decisively to attacks on religious freedom and religious minorities, and political parties should not attempt to exploit religion and religious prejudice for political gain,” he said.

Bangladesh Amir of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Meer Mobashwer Ali said, “The government played a defensive role, though we expected it to play a pro-active one in protecting our rights of religion.”

He went on, “While imposing ban on Ahmadiyya publications on January 8, the government said they did so to quell the situation. But you cannot infringe on our religious rights only because of threats by a small group of peddlers of religion,” he said. The peddlers’ demands for declaring Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim and removing Ahmadiyyas from top posts go against the country’s constitution, he said.

The discussants included Dr Rebeca Milton of Acid Survivors Foundation, Seema Das Simu of Ubinig and journalist DP Barua. Odhikar President Tasneem Siddiqui delivered the welcome address.


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