South Asia Theater
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.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sept. 22 rejected a UN recommendation for international involvement in its investigation into alleged war crimes. The UN released a report earlier this month finding that war crimes may have been committed during the Sri Lankan civil war, encouraging creation of a hybrid special court to handle the matter. Wickremesinghe stated there was nothing to be gained by international involvement, rejecting the idea that the inquiry would be hybrid. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to bring war criminals to justice, with his government announcing plans to set up a truth commission, war reparations office and commission on missing people. Despite this, members of the Tamil minority have expressed distrust in a purely domestic inquiry.
Demonstrators in Nepal gathered Sept. 21 to protest the country's new constitution, which was officially promulgated the previous day. The constitution was signed and announced by President Ram Baran Yadav, who was applauded by members of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal in Kathmandu. It was approved by the Constituent Assembly last week, following years of debate. The charter's passage has caused tensions both within Nepal and with India. It was opposed by minority groups in the southern plains, as their home provinces will be divided under its terms. India has called for the charter to be more inclusive of ethnic groups near its borders and expressed concern about continuing violence in those regions. India's Ministry of External Affairs called Ambassador Ranjit Rae to return to Delhi for consultations in light of Nepal's continuing violence.
An Indian anti-terror court on Sept. 11 convicted 12 men of various charges, including murder, in connection with the near-simultaneous bombings of seven trains in Mumbai in 2006. The men, ranging in age from late 20s to early 40s, are thought to have been members of the Students Islamic Movement of India. Prosecutors say the student organization joined with Pakistan-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (National Counter-Terrorism Center profile) to carry out the attacks, allegations the Pakistani government denies. The two groups allegedly placed eight homemade bombs on the first-class cars of several trains and in one train station, and detonated the explosives within 15 minutes of one another, resulting in 189 deaths and more than 800 injuries. Although charges were filed against the men only four months after the attack, the case took several years to resolve due to difficulties in collecting evidence. Sentencing is expected this week, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty.