South Asia Theater
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.
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.
A Kashmir-based militant coalition, the United Jihad Council, claimed responsibility for an attack on the Indian air force base at Pathankot, which has left five militants and seven soldiers dead in three days of fighting. The attack on Pathankot—in northern Punjab state, near the borders with both Jammu & Kashmir state and Pakistan—is seen as an attempt to derail recent peace moves by India and Pakistan. The attack came about a week after a surprise visit by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif—the first Islamabad visit by an Indian premier in 12 years.
Bangladesh opposition figures Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid were hanged together at Dhaka Central Jail Nov. 22 for war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence. In the prelude to the executions, the government ordered all ISPs to block Facebook and other social media in a bid to head off protests. In the electronic chaos that followed the order, the entire country lost Internet access for over an hour. Protests were effectively suppressed, but a reporter from Mohona TV was shot and wounded when his car was sprayed with bullets by roadside assailants while returning to Dhaka from covering the funeral of Chowdhury in Chittagong district. (Dhaka Tribune, Gizmodo, Al Jazeera, Nov. 23; France24, Nov. 22; AFP, Bangladesh News, Nov. 21)
Bangladesh has asked Amnesty International (AI) to retract its criticism of the country's execution plans for opposition politicians convicted of war crimes at a local tribunal. In 2013 the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) convicted Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, a senior politician from Jamaat-e-Islami and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, of war crimes committed during Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971. Their convictions and subsequent death sentences were upheld earlier this year, and the two men filed review petitions to be heard by the country's top court on Nov. 17. AI stated that the trials of the men "failed to meet international standards." It also noted, "in the government's haste to see more war crimes convicts executed, both men were subjected to a speeded up appeals' process. The UN has stated the ICT fails to meet international fair trial standards."
ISIS has claimed responsibility for bombings that targeted Shi'ites in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka as they gathered for a procession marking the holy day of Ashura on Oct. 24. A 12-year-old boy was killed and more than 100 injured in the attack, said to be carried out with hurled improvised explosive devices. An Internet statement said "soldiers of the Caliphate in Bangladesh" attakced the "polytheist rituals," apparently marking a new ISIS franchise in the Indian subcontinent. Hours earlier, a suicide bomber killed at least 18 Shi'ites during Ashura celebrations at Jacobabad in Pakistan's Sindh province. That attack was claimed by militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. (BDNews24, Al Jazeera, Riyadh Vision, EuroNews, AFP, Oct. 24)
As of October 14, a total of 41 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets have returned the awards they received from India's prestigious National Academy of Letters, or Sahitya Akademi, in protest what they call a growing climate of intolerance under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Salman Rushdie condemned the wave of "thuggish violence," while fellow acclaimed novelist Nayantara Sahgal explicitly called out Modi's reigning political ideology. "The prime minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology," she said. "Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva—whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle—are being marginalied, persecuted, or murdered." The government has dismissed the writers' protests, accusing them of being politically motivated. "If they say they are unable to write, let them stop writing," Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told reporters. (Pakistan Express-Tribune, NYT, Oct. 16; BBC News, Oct. 7)
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Oct. 6 upheld the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri, a former police guard respected within Pakistan for killing politician Salmaan Taseer over his support for a woman convicted of blasphemy. Taseer, governor of Punjar at the time of his death, was leaving a restaurant in January 2011 when he was shot and killed. Taseer had drawn ire from religious conservative groups when he took up the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammed. The next possible step for Qadri will be an appeal for a presidential pardon, which is unlikely to be granted.