DHAKA: Bangladesh’s apex court today declared extra-judicial punishments under religious edicts as illegal though it lifted a High court ban on the issuance of ‘fatwas’.
The Supreme Court also said that not everyone was authorised to pronounce fatwas and such legal opinions on religious matters should come only by “properly educated persons”.
The judgement came after a protracted hearing on a petition by two Islamic scholars challenging last year’s High Court verdict declaring the fatwa entirely “illegal”.
Partly modifying the earlier High Court judgement, the appellate division of the Supreme Court headed by chief justice A B M Khairul Haque said “no person can pronounce fatwa which violates or affects the rights or reputation or dignity of any person which is covered by law of the land”.
It further added that a fatwa on religious matters may only be given “by properly educated persons which may be accepted only voluntarily but any coercion or undue influence in any form is forbidden”. The judgement further pointed out that “no punishment including physical violence or mental torture in any form can be imposed or implicated on anybody in pursuance
of fatwa”. In the process of reviewing the High Court judgement the top court earlier appointed a number of senior lawyers as “amici curiae” or “friends of the court” to listen to their opinions on
Several of them had suggested that fatwas could be regarded just as “opinions of religious scholars”. The High Court order in July last year had ruled the handing down of punishments like caning or beating in the name of “fatwa” as a criminal offence.
“Any person who issues or executes such an extra-judicial penalty must be punished for committing a criminal offence,” said a two-member bench on writ filed by several rights groups at that time following a series of reports on brutal tortures, particularly on women, under fatwas handed down by
It said infliction of brutal punishment including caning, whipping and beating or arbitration by persons devoid of judicial authority constitutes violation of constitutional rights and particularly directed the authorities to take punitive action against people involved in enforcing “fatwa”
The fatwa issue dominated the media again during recent months after another High Court bench demanded explanation from the government for failing to save a 14-year girl who died after being canned for her alleged illicit relationship with a fellow villager following a fatwa.
The High Court had delivered the verdict in October last year after a 45-year-old woman and a man were whipped in execution of an extra-judicial penalty imposed by arbitration in northwestern Rajshahi.