South Asia Theater

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.

Bangladesh executes Islamist for war crimes

Bangladesh authorities on May 11 executed Motiur Rahman Nizami for war crimes during the the 1971 war of independence. Nizami, a leader of the banned political party Jamaat-e-Islami, was convicted for crimes including rape and genocide, and is the fifth JI leader to be executed. Party leaders called on their followers to strike as a sign of opposition to the hanging. There has been international criticism of the Bangladesh tribunals, while the government claims they are necessary for the healing process to continue. The parliament of Pakistan has officially condemned the hanging of Nizami.

Bangladesh: deadly repression of anti-coal protest

Police opened fire on peasant protestors at the site of a coal-fired power plant project in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh April 4, killing at least four. Thousands of people were charged with assault and vandalism in connection with the demonstration against the Chinese-financed project near the village of Gandamara  "We demand an immediate, full and independent inquiry into yesterday’s events to hold those responsible to account for the unnecessary murder of at least four people," two Bangladeshi groups, the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said in a joint statement the following day. According to the groups, 15,000 peacefully marched on the site to protest land-grabs by the plants' developer when police opened fire. Police said one officer was shot in the protest and another 10 injured—a claim denied by the villagers, who also said the death toll on their side could be higher, with several still missing. 

Pakistan: government caves to Islamist protesters

Pakistan's government succeeded in persuading thousands of protesters occupying a key area of downtown Islamabad's high-security Red Zone to disperse before force is used—after several deadlines had been extended, four days into the occupation. The protesters are supporters of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri—recently executed as the assassin of a former governor who campaigned for reform of the country's blasphemy laws. The case revolves around Asia Bibi, a woman farmworker of Christian background convicted of blasphemy after being accused of dissing the Prophet in an argument over a drink of water while at work in the fields. Protesters demanded that Bibi be executed as well. This was, thankfully, not a part of the deal under which they agreed to stand down—but the government did pledge that there would be no reform of the blasphemy laws, which are enshrined in the Pakistani constitution's Article 295-C. The status of the protesters' other demands—including release of jihadist prisoners, and that Mumtaz Qadri be declared a "martyr"—remains unclear. (Express Tribune, The News, GeoTV, March 30; AP, March 28; Dawn, March 27)

Land-grabbing behind India's new caste wars

The fetish for hacking apostates to death on the Subcontinent has spread from the jihadis to the Hindu-fundamentalist competition... In another case of mounting caste violence in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a newly-wed couple was beaten in full public view in the town of Udumalpet on March 13—and the man then hacked to death. Times of India reports the attackers were the woman's relatives. The local police commissioner said her family was angered by the couple's marriage: "They married some eight months ago and the woman's family was unhappy. She is an upper Thevar Hindu caste and the man was a Dalit." (First Post, March 14) The Dalits are India's lowest caste, the so-called "untouchables."

Pakistan: backlash to 'un-Islamic' women's law

A conference of religious groups and political parties convened by the Jamaat-e-Islami party asked the Pakistani government on March 15 to repeal a new "un-Islamic" law that provides protections for female victims of abuse. The Women's Protection Act (PDF), passed last month by Punjab province, establishes an abuse hotline, sets up shelter homes, provides for imprisonment for violations of protection from abuse orders and establishes investigation panels. The religious groups claim the law violates the Koran, denouncing it as in conflict with both Islam and the Pakistani constitution. Earlier this month the Council of Islamic Ideology, the government's religious advising body, declared the Women's Protection Act un-Islamic.

Pakistan braces for unrest after assassin's execution

Pakistani authorities on Feb. 29 prepared for civil unrest after the execution of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in a high-security prison in Rawalpindi. Qadri was the convicted killer of a former governor of the Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, who campaigned for changes to the country's blasphemy laws, asserting they were used to persecute religious minorities. Qadri, who served as Taseer's bodyguard at the time of the murder, later claimed it was his religious duty to kill the former governor. Authorities feared protests and potential violence after the execution because Qadri had gained the status of a political hero for some Islamist groups, who believe that the mere suggestion of political reform should amount to a capital crime. After Qadri's execution, security forces were put on high alert and there were riot police present around Qadri's residence.

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