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Bangladesh high court lifts ban on fatwas, forbids enforcement

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh [official website] on Thursday lifted a 10-year ban on fatwas, or Islamic religious edicts, but ruled that they cannot be enforced as punishment. The court found that fatwas can only be issued by appropriately educated persons [Daily Star report] and that no one can be forced to accept a fatwa. The court had declared fatwas illegal in 2001, but, in 2010, the court ruled that a person cannot be punished for issuing a fatwa. Thursday's ruling was welcomed [Daily Star report] by scholars and rights activists, but groups urged caution against the impact of the fatwa being declared legal. Clerics have criticized the ruling [BBC report].

Bangladesh, whose population is over 90 percent Muslim, has nonetheless maintained a secular legal system. In August, the Supreme Court ruled that workplaces and schools cannot force individuals to wear religious clothing [JURIST report] such as veils and skull caps. The court found that wearing religious clothing is an individual choice and cannot be made mandatory, and requiring individuals to wear religious clothing is a human rights violation in contravention of the Bangladeshi Constitution [text]. In July, the Supreme Court overturned a constitutional amendment that had allowed religious parties to participate in politics [JURIST report]. The court, upholding a lower court decision, held that the Fifth Amendment to the Bangladeshi Constitution, which allowed the participation of religious political parties and legitimized military rule, violated the principle of secularism and representative democracy found in the constitution's preamble.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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