The crushing of a rally for the restoration of democracy in Nepal Feb. 10 rated a tiny blurb of wire copy on page 10 of the next day's NY Times. Meanwhile, the crisis in the Himalayan kingdom rapidly deepens. Security forces are hunting down the 150 inmates liberated from a prison in an attack by Maoist rebels, and pledge to break up road blockades the guerillas intend to launch throughout the country to resist the state of emergency. Concerned about reports of detention of political leaders, rights activists and journalists, Amnesty International is sending a special high-level team to Kathmandu, led by the group's secretary general Irene Khan. (Indo-Asian News Service, Feb. 11)
The first public protest for restoration of democracy in Nepal since King Gyanendra suspended civil government Feb. 1 was predictably shut down by police Feb. 10, as 12 members of the Human Rights and Peace Society were arrested upon arriving at the gathering point. As the detainees were hustled into vans, police set up a cordon around the rally site to prevent other activists from gathering.
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel responded angrily to charges by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega that his government's new arms deal with Russia is intended for trafficking to Colombian guerillas. "Venezuela is a sovereign country," Rangel said. "We are only accountable to Venezuelans and the country's institutions," adding that the arms are intended only for "purposes of national defense" and accusing the State Department of "provocations." The State Department expressed concerns about Venezuela's deal to buy 100,000 AK-47 rifles and several military helicopters from Russia. (Venezuelanalysis, Feb. 8)
With most of the international community condemnding King Gyanendra's suspension of civil government and democratic rights in Nepal, Pakistan's embassy in Kathmandu released a statement of support for the king, saying "Pakistan and Nepal share the objectives of combatting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations" and invoking the principle of non-interference. The People's Republic of China is the only other nation to refrain from criticizing the king's power seizure.
A week after Nepal's king dismissed his government and imposed emergency rule by personal decree, the isolated Himalayan nation has largely disappeared from the headlines. The NY Times reported Feb. 9 in short page 13 story that King Gyanendra has allowed international telephone service to resume (gee thanks, Your Highness).
Tom Wilner, attorney for 11 Kuwaiti men arrested by US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now held at Guantanamo Bay, told the press his clients say they were beaten, tortured and subjected to electro-shock and sodomy to extract confessions. According to Wilner's notes, one detainee said: "The American soldiers kept saying, 'Are you Taliban or are you al-Qaeda?'... They kept hitting me, so eventually I said I was a member of the Taliban." He says the 11 are all innocent.
The Feb. 8 NY Times featured an op-ed by Shirin Ebadi, Iranian dissident attorney and winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, co-authored with Hadi Ghaem of Human Rights Watch: "The Human Rights Case Against Attacking Iran". Ebadi is skeptical about Condoleeza Rica's recent assertion that attacking Iran is "not on the agenda at this point." She is even more skeptical about Condi's claim "The Iranian regime's human rights behavior...is something to be loathed."
A traditional Punjabi festival of the approaching spring, Basant, is the source of controversy in Pakistan, where Islamic clerics went to court in an unsuccessful bid to have the celebrations banned and revelry in Lahore left at least 17 dead. Festivities usually include kite-flying, fireworks and firing rifles in the air. Stray bullets and throats slashed by metal kite strings were responsible for most of the deaths.