DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh's top court rejected a 28-year-old petition Monday to remove Islam as the official religion of the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.
The decision by the three-judge High Court panel had been widely expected. The court said the 15-member group that filed the petition in 1988 has no legitimacy because it was never registered with authorities.
Government lawyers said the court's rejection means that Islam will remain Bangladesh's official religion, and that equal rights for minority religions guaranteed by the constitution will not be affected.
The government's lead lawyer for the case, Murad Reza, who had opposed the petition, praised the court's decision.
Islam was declared Bangladesh's state religion in 1988 by military dictator H.M. Ershad in a bid to win popular support while major political parties campaigned to oust him from power. He resigned amid mass protests in 1990.
The country's current leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, reintroduced secularism as the political standard in a 2011 constitutional amendment, but continued to support Islam as the state religion.
Leaders of the local Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam said they were happy with Monday's court decision. Members of the group who had gathered outside the court held two fingers up in a V sign for victory.
"We thank the court on behalf of the nation for rejecting the petition," said Fazlul Karim Kashemy, a Hefajat-e-Islam leader. "Muslims and non-Muslims in our society have been maintaining good relationship for long."
Bangladesh's largest Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, had called for a nationwide general strike on Monday to demand the petition's rejection, but few heeded the call to strike.