South Asia Theater

Amnesty closes India office after sedition charges

The India branch of Amnesty International (AI) temporarily closed its office Aug. 17 after the organization was accused of sedition and anti-India sentiments. The accusations arose after AI promoted a human rights seminar in Kashmir, focusing on alleged human rights abuses carried out by the Indian security forces. AI responded to the accusations by stating that the accusations "are preventing the families of victims of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir from having their stories heard. And preventing civil society organisations from enabling these families to exercise their constitutional right to justice."

Pakistan lawmakers approve cybersecurity law

The National Assembly of Pakistan on Aug. 11 approved the controversial Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 (PDF). The law has received negative attention in the past from human rights activists for the role it could play in hindering the free speech and privacy of Pakistani citizens. Particularly, activists warn about the broad and vague language contained in the Act which gives officials unqualified discretion to block and remove information. The bill was designed to help the Pakistan government combat terrorism and other cyber crimes.

Bangladesh: ex-MP gets death for war crimes

The International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) on Auig. 10 sentenced (PDF) a former member of parliament to death and seven others to life in prison for crimes committed during the 1971 war for independence. Sakhawat Hossain, a former lawmaker and member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was accused of commanding a group that aided Pakistani soldiers. His lawyers have said they plan to appeal. One of the other defendants was present in court along with Hossain, and the remaining six defendants were tried and convicted in absentia.

'Untouchable' protests against Hindutva vigilantes

Protesting the flogging of a Dalit ("Untouchable") family in Una, Gujarat state, for skinning a dead cow, thousands of Dalits gathered in state capital Ahmedabad July 31 to declare a new mobilization for their rights and diginity. They announced a cross-county march from Ahmedabad to Una, to arrive on Aug. 15, India's Independence Day. Leaders asked Dalits to stop disposing dead cattle and cleaning sewers to "send a strong message" to the state government. The Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti (UDALS), which is organizing the march, accuses the BJP government in Gujarat of giving a free hand to gau rakshaks—Hindu fundamentalist "cattle vigilantes" who have launched a series of attacks on Dalits, Muslims and others to enforce reverance for the sacred cow and their proclaimed ban on beef consumption. (Indian Express, Aug. 1; Indian Express, July 31)

ISIS franchise in Bangladesh bakery siege

Twenty people, mostly foreigners, were killed in an attack on a cafe in Dhaka that was claimed by the Bangladesh affiliate of the ISIS franchise. Government troops stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery in an upscale district of the capital 12 hours after it was seized by jihadist gunmen. Accounts are unclear if hostages were killed in the rescue operation, but at least some were apparently hacked to death by their captors—the favored method of jihadists in Bangladesh. Local media reported the gunmen tortured anyone who was unable to recite the Koran. After all this, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had the temerity to say: "It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these people? They don't have any religion." (BBC News, BBC News, NYT)

Revered Sufi singer assassinated in Pakistan

Thousands of people attended the funeral of slain qawwali singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi on June 23, the day after he was shot dead in an attack claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction. The 40-year-old Sabri, son of qawwali master Ghulam Farid Sabri, was heading to a TV station for a special Ramadan performance when two gunmen fired on his car. Qawwali is the traditional devotional music of Pakistan's Sufis, who are considered heretical by the Taliban. The Sabri family are members of the Chishti Sufi order. While the musical family has been revered since the Mughal empire, their tradition has come under growing attack in the increasingly conservative atmosphere of Pakistan. A blasphemy case was filed against Sabri last year after he mentioned members of the Prophet Muhammad's family in a song. The assassination was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban. There have been no arrests.

Bangladesh detains 1,600 in crackdown on Islamists

Authorities in Bangladesh detained approximately 1,600 people June 10-11 in an effort to hunt down radical Islamist militants. Police suspect only 37 of the detainees are more than petty criminals, none of whom are believed to be "high-level operators." The raids were a response to multiple attacks in Bangladesh over the last few years, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has faced criticism regarding security for minorities and failure to prosecute suspects. Victims include atheist journalists, foreign aid workers, professors, gay rights activists and religious minorities including Christians, Hindus and Shi'ite Muslims. Amnesty International has also criticized the government for failing to provide adequate protection. Political parties in the country meanwhile expressed concern that the government would use the campaign to suppress opposition.

India: court convicts 24 in 2002 Gujarat pogrom

The Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad, India, convicted 24 individuals on June 2 of murder and other charges related to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat in which hundreds of Muslims were killed. The riots, which occurred when current Prime Minister Narendra Modi served as the Chief Minister of the state, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 individuals, most of whom were Muslims, making this India's worst outbreak of religious violence since the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. The Gujarat riots came a day after 60 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train blaze. A court convicted 31 people years later of arson in connection with that incident. According to SM Vohra, a lawyer representing some three dozen victims, 11 of the 24 were convicted of murder while the rest were convicted of lesser charges, which will not be made public until sentencing. The court acquitted 36 other defendants who had been on trial since 2009, while four of the accused died during the trial.

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