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Bangladesh high court declares rules against Islamist party

By Farid Ahmed and Saeed Ahmed, CNN
August 1, 2013 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
(File photo) Police charge a suspected Jamaat-e-Islami activist during a nationwide strike in Dhaka on February 6, 2013.
(File photo) Police charge a suspected Jamaat-e-Islami activist during a nationwide strike in Dhaka on February 6, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jamaat is one of two main opposition parties
  • With ban, it can't take part in upcoming general election
  • The petition says Jamaat is religiously-steeped
  • The potential for violence is all-too-real

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Bangladesh's high court has declared the registration of the country's largest Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, illegal.

Jamaat is one of two main opposition parties and a constant thorn in the side of the ruling Awami League.

With the declaration, Jamaat will not be able to take part in the country's upcoming general election -- certainly welcome news to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Opinion: Bangladesh on the brink

But such a ruling can also reignite a fresh round of political unrest in the South Asian nation.

Drumbeat gets louder

Jaamat enjoys considerable support, particularly in rural areas. And periodically, it will summon the masses to swarm the capital city, Dhaka, as a reminder.

But in recent months, the drumbeat to ban Jamaat has gotten louder, especially from progressive groups that point to the party's role during Bangladesh's struggle for independence in the early 1970s.

Read more: Bangladesh Islamists rally for blasphemy law

Between one million and 3 million people were killed in the nine-month war.

In 2010, Bangladesh set up a court that it called the International Crimes Tribunal to bring to justice those it accused in the massacre.

Among those the court has convicted of crimes against humanity are several top Jamaat leaders.

Jamaat acknowledges that it opposed Bangladesh's struggle for independence, but it has decried what it calls a smear campaign.

It has also questioned why the ruling Awami League is only now pressing forward on war crimes trials when it didn't do so while in power during the 1970s and 1990s.

A petition to ban

The court case calling for its ban resulted from a petition filed in 2009 by Bangladesh Tariquat Foundation, a Sufi organization that wants to make Bangladesh a secular nation.

Read more: American says he would die for justice in Bangladesh

The petition said Jamaat is a religiously-steeped political entity that actively worked to undermine the independence movement.

The Awami League has sided with those calling for a ban.

"We're examining all possible ways of doing it," the law minister said in February.

Fear of violence

But the fear of violence igniting from such a ruling is all-too-real.

Every time one of Jamaat's top leaders have been convicted by the war crimes tribunals, angry Jamaat supporters have clashed with police.

Since February, at least 150 protesters have been killed and at least 2,00 wounded in such clashes, the Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.

The group laid the blame on security personnel using excessive force.

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