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10 September, 2015 00:00 00 AM
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Secular state with state religion gives rise to ambiguities

Says UN Special Rapporteur
DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt said yesterday the Constitution of Bangladesh, which enshrines the principle of secularism while at the same time proclaiming Islam as the state religion, gives rise to ambiguities.
The ambiguities have a direct impact on human rights in the country, including the protection of religious minorities, he said just ending a nine-day official visit to Bangladesh.
The Special Rapporteur, however, acknowledged the government’s efforts to improve freedom of religion and belief in the country and noted specific measures taken in favour of religious minorities who feel under pressure.
He said secularism in Bangladesh represents a commitment, entrenched in the constitution, to create and uphold an open and inclusive space for religious diversity, free from fear and discrimination, according to a news release forwarded by the Office of Human Rights Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

“Such an ‘inclusive’ understanding of secularism requires the state authorities to take concrete action and make long term investment in education, civil society development, minority outreach programmes and other activities,” he added.
However, the UN human rights expert observed worrying trends towards compromising the principle of secularism, possibly with the intention of appeasing religious militants.
The UN expert also noted that some of the measures established to preserve secularism seem to lead to the opposite result and to a shrinking of the very space that secularism – like democracy – is supposed to provide.
“For instance, a number of official statements on the recent murders of online activists were ambiguous. While condemning the threats and acts of violence, government representatives also admonished individuals expressing critical views on religion, asking them not to go ‘too far’ in their criticisms,” Bielefeldt said.
While trying to fight the instrumentalisation of religions, the government itself should also refrain from using religion to achieve political goals, he said, calling upon the state authorities to bring the existing norms and practices in line with everyone’s right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression as enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Bielefeldt visited Bangladesh from August 31 to September 9. In Dhaka and Chittagong Hill Tracts, he met with various government officials and local authorities.
He also held meetings with representatives of religious, belief and diplomatic communities, as well as with academicians, civil society organisations and the UN.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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