The High Court in a verdict yesterday declared illegal all kinds of extrajudicial punishment including those made in the name of fatwa in local arbitration.
The court directed the authorities concerned to take punitive action against the people involved in enforcing fatwa against women.
Anyone involved, present or taking part in or assisting any such conviction or execution would come under purview of the offences under the penal code and be subject to punishment, the court observed.
It also observed infliction of brutal punishment including caning, whipping and beating in local salish [arbitration] by persons devoid of judicial authority constitutes violation of the constitutional rights.
The court said the people's rights to life and equal protection have to be treated in accordance with the law.
As per the rules of the Constitution, the citizens will not be subject to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment, the HC said.
The HC bench of Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain and Justice Gobinda Chandra Tagore came up with the verdict in response to three separate writs. The petitions were filed by rights organisations -- Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, BRAC Human Rights and Legal Services, and Nijera Kori, and four Supreme Court lawyers -- Advocate Salahuddin Dolon, Barrister Mahbub Shafique, Advocate AKM Hafizul Alam and Barrister Imaran-ul Hye.
The rights organisations filed a writ last year and the lawyers filed two separate writs this year with the HC, seeking necessary directives from the court to stop extrajudicial punishment in the name of fatwa.
The petitions were filed following several newspaper reports and investigations by the petitioners into violence inflicted on women in the name of fatwa by local religious leaders and powerful corners.
It was alleged in the petitions that a number of deaths, suicides and incidents of grievous hurt of women were reported arising from punishment given in salish, but the law-enforcement agencies took no action to prevent those unlawful actions.
Such kinds of conviction and punishment do not have any legal basis, they said.
The petitioners referred to international obligation under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979.
Earlier on August 25 last year, the HC directed the secretary to Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, officials of the law-enforcement agencies and the chairmen of union parishads and municipalities to take immediate measures against extrajudicial penalties in salish.
It also issued a rule asking them to show cause as to why their failure to prevent such illegal acts in compliance with their statutory obligations should not be declared illegal.
Barrister Sara Hossain appeared for the petitioners and Deputy Attorney General Ekram Hossain Manju for the state.
Meanwhile, ASK Executive Director Sultana Kamal told The Daily Star 10-12 incidents of extrajudicial punishment took place in the name of fatwa across the country in last one year.
"As far as I know, six such indents including an incident of caning in Bancharampur in Brahmanbaria have taken place in different areas this year," she said.
Sultana Kamal, also a former adviser to the caretaker government, said repression against women in the name of fatwa will decrease following the HC verdict.
Women who want to control themselves as per their choice will get the right to protect themselves, she said, adding that perpetrators cannot impose their religious and cruel concepts upon them.
The HC bench of Justice Mohammad Gholam Rabbani in 2001 in another verdict declared fatwa illegal, although an appeal is pending with the Appellate Division in this regard.
Petitioner Barrister Mahbub said yesterday's verdict is wider than that of 2001, since the latest one declares illegal all kinds of extrajudicial punishment, whereas the previous verdict declared illegal only fatwa.
Yesterday's verdict has asked the law enforcers to remain vigilant against extrajudicial punishment and report to the court about such incidents, he added.