Dhaka: A demand to prohibit the Muslim clergy from issuing fatwa is gathering momentum in Bangladesh as 503 women have been subjected to public flogging since the year 2000.
The issuing of religious edicts has not yet been banned. The high court declared it illegal in 2001; speakers said at a roundtable titled "No more fatwa" here Sunday.
Speakers urged the government to make issuance of fatwa a punishable offence since 503 women have fallen victim to it.
"Fatwa means legal opinion. Only court can give legal opinions. The man who announces fatwa has no legal authority to do it," Justice Mohammad Gholam Rabbani said referring to the judgment he passed in 2001.
"Fatwa should be made punishable as it goes against the existing law of our country," he was quoted as saying by The Daily Star.
Largest selling Bengali language daily Prothom Alo arranged the roundtable following last month's death of a teenage girl from Shariatpur near here, who was raped by a neighbour and then whipped a 100 times after a fatwa was issued.
She could not take more than about 80 lashes and fell unconscious, eyewitnesses told media. She died a day later in hospital.
The case caused a national outcry after it was found that the police and the hospital colluded with the family of the alleged rapist to deny that there was any wrongdoing.
The Dhaka High Court has ordered reopening of the case and multiple probes against the police and the hospital authorities.
Judges Mohammad Gholam Rabbani and Nazmun Ara Sultana in the landmark 2001 judgment declared that the "legal system of Bangladesh empowers only the courts to decide all questions relating to the legal opinions on the Muslim and other laws as in force in Bangladesh".
However, the 2001 judgment was stayed following a Supreme Court order, said Gholam Rabbani.
The apex court passed the stay order against the backdrop of killing of seven people in violent clashes between police and demonstrators, who took to the street following the verdict.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam said the incident of the teenager who was whipped to death brings the social system, state machinery and performance of law enforcers into question.