South Asia Theater
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Oct. 31 overturned (PDF) the 2010 blasphemy conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman, citing failure to proffer enough evidence that Bibi indeed committed the offense. Bibi's conviction stemmed from an altercation with her Muslim co-workers at a farm in Punjab province, who said they would not drink water fetched by Bibi after she sipped from it because she was impure. Heated words were exchanged, and the account of the incident was later apparently exaggerated to incriminate Bibi. The trial court convicted her of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Bibi initially made what the high court called an "extra-judicial confession" to the crime at the scene, but claimed at trial that the confession was made under coercion and threat of death.
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
A suicide bomber killed at least 130 people at a campaign rally in southwestern Pakistan July 13— the deadliest attack in the country since 2014. A local candidate was among the dead in Mastung town, Balochistan province. The local franchise of the Islamic State took credit for the attack. That same day, a bomb attack on a rally in the northern town of Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killed four. Three days earlier, a suicide attack on a rally in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed 20. The attacks come ahead of this month's general elections. Among those killed in Mastung was Balochistan provincial assembly candidate Siraj Raisani, of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). (BBC News, Dawn, EWN)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on June 6 condemned the government of Bangladesh for the killing of suspected drug offenders by security forces. The High Commissioner responded to reports that 130 individuals had been killed in three weeks and thousands arrested after the government proclaimed a "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal drugs. He especially expressed concern over the government's public message claiming that the individuals killed were not innocent and that "mistakes can occur in an anti-narcotics drive." He also raised concerns that "already vulnerable communities living in slums were particularly being targeted," and that drug users may fear being arrested or killed for seeking treatment or just accessing health services. Al Hussein called on the government to review the incidents and hold human rights violators accountable. He emphasized that the stance of the UN rights office remains: "Every person has the right to life. People do not lose their human rights because they use or sell drugs. The presumption of innocence and the right to due process must be at the forefront of any efforts to tackle crimes."
Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on April 2 approved the death penalty for 10 condemned militants, including those convicted in the 2016 slaying of Amjad Sabri, one of the country's most revered singers of qawwalii, traditional Sufi devotional music. The accused, who were tried by special military courts, were held responsibile in a total of 62 deaths, also including those at the 2009 bombing of Peshawar's Pearl Continental Hotel. Sabri, 45, was on his way to a televised Ramadan performance in Karachi when his car was attacked. He was the son of renowned qawwal Ghulam Farid Sabri of the Chishti Sufi order, who was himself honored this week across Pakistan and India on the 24th anniversary of his death.. Amjad Sabri's widow, Nadia Sabri, said she could not understand why her husband was killed. “He was a man who praised Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him),” she said. The Hakimullah Masood faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination of Sabri. (UrduPoint, April 5; PTI, Samaa, April 2)
Islamist leaders in Pakistan agreed Nov. 27 to call a halt to protests that had for nearly two weeks paralyzed Islamabad and other cities in return for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Along with the deal, although seemingly not a part of it, a judicial panel ordered the release of 2008 Mumbai terror suspect Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, sparking angry protests from New Delhi. The protests were led by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party, linked to the Barelvi sect of Islam and fronted by the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi. The protests were launched over Hamid's proposed changes to the oath taken by incoming lawmakers, omitting the language recognizing Muhammad as God's final prophet. Rizvi called the proposed change "blasphemy," which is a capital offense in Pakistan. Hamid quickly backtracked, calling the omission of the text a clerical error, and had it reinserted. Rizvi's followers still demanded his resignation, and protests reached by point of deadly violence before the deal was struck. In recent days, Islamabad considered calling in the army to clear the streets—raising fears about whether the army would respond, and the prospect of a face-off between the armed forces and civil authorities. (BBC News, NYT, Nov. 25; NYT, Nov. 27)
With stateside media focused on the unprecedented flooding and cascading industrial disasters from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the far great deluges that have struck three countries in South Asia are going largely unreported. The death toll is estimated at 1,200 after weeks of unusually strong monsoon rains affecting India, Bangladesh and Nepal. According to the Red Cross, 14 million people have been affected by flooding in India; more than seven million in Bangladesh, and 1.5 million in Nepal. The United Nations puts the total number of those impacted by floods and landslides at a total nearly double that, of 41 million.
The Supreme Court of India ruled (PDF) Aug. 22 that Islam's "instant divorce" law, which allowed Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying the word "talaq" three times, was unconstitutional. The case was heard by five judges of the court and resulted in a vote of 3-2. The court found that the practice is gender-discriminatory and noted that several countries with sizable Muslim populations do not allow the talaq instant divorce. The court has given a six-month period for the talaq divorce to be redefined or simply done away with altogether. No husband is allowed to use the talaq divorce during this period. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) filed an affidavit stating that they will recommend that husbands not utilize the talaq divorce. However, the AIMPLB also stated that they will contest the ruling. The ruling was supported by India's prime minister Narendra Modi.