South Asia Theater
The International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) sentenced (PDF) Islamist leader ATM Azharul Islam to death on Dec. 30 for war crimes committed during the 1971 War of Liberation against Pakistan. Azharul Islam is the assistant secretary general of the nation's largest Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). He was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, including mass murder, rape and torture, while fighting for Pakistan during the war as a member of the student party Islami Chhatra Sangha. The defense argued that Azharul Islam was only charged with these crimes for "political victimization," but the court stated that it did not find any evidence proving prosecution for political purposes.
Pakistani police have detained the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks on abduction charges a day after a court ordered his release. Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was detained in Pakistani custody since 2008 for heading the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (CFR backgrounder), which was held responsible for the Mumbai attacks that killed 165 individuals. Earlier this month, Lakhvi was granted bail, but the government immediately imposed a three-month detention order to keep him in prison. Lakhvi successfully challenged the order with the Islamabad High Court, and was conditionally released on Dec. 29. Hours after his release, Lakhvi was in police custody again for the alleged kidnapping of a man. The Pakistani government has stated plans to challenge the original decision to grant Lakhvi bail.
A Pakistani court on Dec. 26 issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head cleric of the Red Mosque (BBC backgrounder) in Islamabad. The court order comes after Aziz was accused of threatening protestors who were unhappy with his support of the Peshawar massacre that resulted in the deaths of around 150 people, most of them children. The cleric stated publicly that the massacre was an understandable action against the army's "un-Islamic operation," and roused further suspicions of alleged pro-Taliban leanings during a sermon when he stated "O rulers, O people in power, if you will commit such acts, there will be a reaction." The issuing of the arrest warrant was met with much public support, but leaders of the Red Mosque are adamant in their resistance, citing a lack of grounds for arrest. Execution of the warrant might be difficult because of reluctance by the police to arrest Aziz following his promise to instigate a country-wide protest should he be taken into custody.
National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) militants shot dead at least 50 adivasis, or tribal people, at five different places in India's northeast state of Assam Dec. 23. Many women and children are among the dead. The attacks took place at remote rural villages, where residents were pulled out of their huts and summarily shot. The death toll is expected to rise. The coordinated attacks followed the killing of two Bodo rebels in a skirmish with Assam police troops earlier in the week. Authorities blamed the Songbijit faction of the NDFB, which is seeking statehood for the Bodoland region of Assam. (Times of India, Al Jazeera, BBC World Service, Dec. 24)
A massive oil spill from a stricken tanker is threatening endangered dolphins and other rare wildlife in the world's largest mangrove forest, Bangladesh officials warned Dec. 11. Rescue vessels have now salvaged the tanker, but the slick had already spread to a second river and a network of canals in the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which straddles India and Bangladesh. "It's a catastrophe for the delicate ecology of the Sundarbans," the area's chief forest official Amir Hossain told the AFP news agency. "The oil spill has already blackened the shoreline, threatening trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins." The tanker was carrying more than 350,000 liters of oil when it collided with another vessel and sank in the Sundarbans' Shela River, home to the endangered Ganges dolphins. Forest and security officials are on high alert amid fears the spill may cross over to the Indian side of the Sunderbans, home to Bengal tigers, ridley turtles, and other rare flora and fauna. The Sunderbans is also an important feeding area for migratory birds from Siberia. (Radio Australia, Al Jazeera, Business Standard, India, Dec. 11)
A special tribunal in Bangladesh on Dec. 2 found British journalist David Bergman guilty of contempt for challenging the official death toll of Bangladesh's 1971 independence war with Pakistan. Bergman wrote in a 2011 blog post and two other articles that the number of those killed or raped during the war recorded by Bangladeshi officials lacked evidentiary support. According to officials, three million people were killed during the conflict. As a result of the judgment, in which the court stated that the journalist offended the nation, Bergman will have to pay a fine equal to $65. If he fails to do so, he will face a week in jail.
Pakistan's Federal Shariat Court has ordered that the government amend or re-file its complaint against former president Pervez Musharraf for treason to include the former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, law minister Zahid Hamid and judge Abdul Hameed Dogar as co-defendants. In 2007 during Musharraf's reign as president, he issued an emergency order suspending the constitution and parliament, and fired judges who ruled his actions to be unconstitutional. Musharraf was indicted on charges of high treason in March for his role in suspending the constitution. In its order the court expressed particular concern with the failure of the Federal Investigation Agency to investigate other possible defendants, when evidence uncovered during the course of the investigation connected others to the emergency action. The prosecution has expressed an intention to appeal the order, citing the already lengthy delays in Musharraf's trial.
A horrific case in India's impoverished Chhattisgarh state has won a modicum of international headlines. A surgeon has been arrested on charges of "attempted culpable homicide" in the deaths of at least 13 women who underwent sterilization operations at a field camp in the village of Pandari. Dr. RK Gupta and his a team operated on 83 women in just six hours Nov. 8—in a filthy room, with rusty equipment. Gupta—who had performed over 50,000 sterilizations, and was awarded a state honor for his work—was arrested after initially fleeing, and remains intransigent, blaming the deaths on painkillers the women were given by a village clinic. The death toll may rise, as many women are gravely ill, apparently from infection. The desperately poor women were paid 1,400 rupees ($23) for the surgery. "Health workers" (sic!) also received payments for bringing women to the camp.