South Asia Theater
Police opened fire on peasant protestors at the site of a coal-fired power plant project in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh April 4, killing at least four. Thousands of people were charged with assault and vandalism in connection with the demonstration against the Chinese-financed project near the village of Gandamara "We demand an immediate, full and independent inquiry into yesterday’s events to hold those responsible to account for the unnecessary murder of at least four people," two Bangladeshi groups, the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said in a joint statement the following day. According to the groups, 15,000 peacefully marched on the site to protest land-grabs by the plants' developer when police opened fire. Police said one officer was shot in the protest and another 10 injured—a claim denied by the villagers, who also said the death toll on their side could be higher, with several still missing.
Pakistan's government succeeded in persuading thousands of protesters occupying a key area of downtown Islamabad's high-security Red Zone to disperse before force is used—after several deadlines had been extended, four days into the occupation. The protesters are supporters of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri—recently executed as the assassin of a former governor who campaigned for reform of the country's blasphemy laws. The case revolves around Asia Bibi, a woman farmworker of Christian background convicted of blasphemy after being accused of dissing the Prophet in an argument over a drink of water while at work in the fields. Protesters demanded that Bibi be executed as well. This was, thankfully, not a part of the deal under which they agreed to stand down—but the government did pledge that there would be no reform of the blasphemy laws, which are enshrined in the Pakistani constitution's Article 295-C. The status of the protesters' other demands—including release of jihadist prisoners, and that Mumtaz Qadri be declared a "martyr"—remains unclear. (Express Tribune, The News, GeoTV, March 30; AP, March 28; Dawn, March 27)
The fetish for hacking apostates to death on the Subcontinent has spread from the jihadis to the Hindu-fundamentalist competition... In another case of mounting caste violence in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a newly-wed couple was beaten in full public view in the town of Udumalpet on March 13—and the man then hacked to death. Times of India reports the attackers were the woman's relatives. The local police commissioner said her family was angered by the couple's marriage: "They married some eight months ago and the woman's family was unhappy. She is an upper Thevar Hindu caste and the man was a Dalit." (First Post, March 14) The Dalits are India's lowest caste, the so-called "untouchables."
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."