South Asia Theater

Pakistan issues arrest warrant for radical cleric

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.

India: Bodo militants massacre tribal people

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)

Massive oil spill fouls Bangladesh mangroves

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)

Bangladesh: tribunal convicts UK journalist

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: co-defendants added to Musharraf case

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.

India sterilization abuse: genocide by other means

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. 

Bangladesh: opposition leader gets death sentence

The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal on Nov. 13 convicted (PDF) opposition politician MA Zahid Hossain Khokon to death for his role in killings and other war crimes perpetrated during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The Tribunal found the accused guilty of the offenses of "murder, torture, deportation, rape, confinement, abduction and other inhumane acts" within the crimes against humanity sections of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973. Khokon, a member of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was tried in absentia and is currently a fugitive believed to be residing with his family in Sweden.

Bangladesh: Islamist gets death for war crimes

A special tribunal in Bangladesh on Oct. 29 sentenced Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Motiur Rahman Nizami to death for crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War with Pakistan. The former Cabinet minister was tried on charges that included genocide, rape, murder and torture, and was accused of personally carrying out or ordering the deaths of nearly 600 Bangladeshis while serving as supreme commander of the Al-Badr militia. The JI party has released a statement denouncing the verdict, and the defense has announced its plan to appeal, contending that the charges were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that the tribunal went beyond its jurisdiction.

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