South Asia Theater

Pakistan passes strict anti-terrorism bill

Pakistan's parliament on July 2 passed a new anti-terrorism bill that detractors are claiming grants excessive power to police. The proposed legislation, known as the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, allows police to use lethal force, to search buildings without a warrant and to detain suspects at secret facilities for up to 60 days without charge "on reasonable apprehension of commission of a scheduled offense." Opponents of the bill are calling it draconian and question the precedent that it sets for human rights in the country. The bill will become law if signed by President Mamnoon Hussain.

Sri Lanka: fear in wake of anti-Muslim riots

Police declared a curfew in Sri Lanka's southern coastal town of Aluthgama June 16 after simmering tensions between Buddhist militants and local Muslims escalated into clashes. The riots reportedly began after Muslim youth were accused of manhandling a Buddhist monk. Police arrested three suspects in the incident, but the Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena held a rally and advanced on the Muslim-majority district of Dharga Town in a vehicle convoy. The convoy was pelted with stones, sparking a melee that led to three days of fighting in Aluthgama and neighboring Beruwala, in which eight were killed, over 100 wounded, and several Muslim-owned shops burned. "There is a real risk of violence spreading elsewhere unless the government acts immediately," David Griffiths, Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International, told IRIN. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added: "I am very concerned this violence could spread to Muslim communities in other parts of the country." (IRIN, June 23; Nidahasa, June 16; Colombo Page, BBC News, June 15)

UN rights experts warn Pakistan on persecution

Three independent UN human rights experts on June 2 urged Pakistan to adopt urgent legislation to put an end to faith-based killings and protect the country's Ahmadiyya Muslim (BBC profile) community, whose faith is currently outlawed. The call follows a resurgence of violent attacks in Pakistan targeting Ahmadiyya Muslims, which have resulted in the deaths of two members of the community and are believed to be related to the practice of their religious faith. The country has also recently seen many arrests for blasphemy. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt said that the violence was "fueled by existing blasphemy legislation in Pakistan particularly targeting minorities." He went on to urge the country to guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief for members of minority religious communities. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions  Christof Heyns also spoke, stressing the importance of ensuring accountability to the government's efforts to reduce attacks. Pakistan, according to Heyns, must take urgent and firm steps to bring justice to those guilty of such killings.

Pakistan: 68 lawyers charged with blasphemy

Police in the Pakistani province of Punjab on May 13 filed charges of blasphemy against 68 lawyers for protesting police actions. Last week several dozen lawyers, mostly from Pakistan's Shi'ite minority, staged a protest against a high-ranking police official for detaining and beating a lawyer following a disagreement. The blasphemy charges underscore more widespread tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Pakistan that have resulted in religious and politically-motivated violence. It is not yet known when the lawyers' case will be tried.

Mt. Everest disaster and global climate shift

There is something fundamentally wrong about the fact that there are apparently a whopping 400 tourists on Mount Everest at any one time. That's what came to light April 23, when 16 sherpa guides were killed in an avalanche. The sherpas went on strike over low pay for dangerous work, their walk-out leaving 400 jet-setters stranded on the mountain and jeopardizing the 2014 climbing season. About half the sherpas have descended from the base camp where they operate, and Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said more will likely follow. (BBC News, April 25; BuzzFeed, April 23)

Sri Lanka: no cooperation with war crimes inquiry

Sri Lanka's foreign minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris announced on April 7 that Sri Lanka would not cooperate with a UN investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the country's civil war. The UN Human Rights Council last month  voted to launch an investigation into alleged violations committed by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 towards the end of the civil war. However, speaking at a Foreign Correspondents Association forum, Peiris signaled Sri Lanka's intent not to cooperate due to concerns over legality, fairness, and conflict of interest. Peiris also expressed criticism of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay, who has previously been accused of being partial given her Tamil background.

Sri Lanka authorities arrest human rights activists

Sri Lankan authorities on March 16 arrested human rights activists Ruki Fernando, advisor to the Human Rights Documentation Center, and Catholic priest Father Praveen of the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation for alleged violations of anti-terror laws. Reports indicate authorities arrested the activists for assisting the families of allegedly "disappeared" persons living in Northern Sri Lanka. In particular, the men reportedly sought to uncover information with respect to the March arrests of activist Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter. Several human rights groups, including the Law and Society Trust, have declared the arrests a violation of international law. Sri Lankan authorities reportedly intend to detain the men pending further investigation.

Judge among 11 dead in attack on Pakistan court

A gun and suicide bomb attack March 3 on a court complex in Islamabad, Pakistan, left 11 people dead and 25 injured. Additional Sessions Judge Rafaqat Awan, senior advocate Rao Abdul Rashid, advocate Tanveer Ahmend Shah, and several other members of court staff were among those killed in the first suicide attack in Islamabad since June 2011 and the deadliest since September 2008 when 60 people were killed by a truck bomb at the Marriott Hotel. The incident began around 9:00 AM local time, a time when crowds gather in the area, when gunmen entered the court complex and opened fire before the detonation of two suicide blasts. The attack comes shortly after the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) promised a month-long ceasefire and the government pledged to suspend air strikes against militants. A TTP spokesperson has announced that TTP was not involved. Ahrar-ul-Hind, a small group that told AFP it had no links with TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that they operate independently from TTP and do not favor the ceasefire or peace talks. A spokesperson for the group stated that their main issue with the talks was the lack of mention of the implementation of Sharia law.

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