TIME Bangladesh

Bangladesh Executes Islamist Party Official for War Crimes

Journalists surround the car carrying family members of Mohammad Qamaruzzaman, an assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami party, as they leave the Central Jail after meeting Qamaruzzaman in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 11, 2015.
A.M. Ahad—AP Journalists surround the car carrying family members of Mohammad Qamaruzzaman, an assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami party, as they leave the Central Jail after meeting Qamaruzzaman in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 11, 2015.

Mohammad Qamaruzzaman was convicted of crimes against humanity

(DHAKA, Bangladesh)—Authorities in Bangladesh on Saturday executed a senior Islamist party official convicted of crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan, two officials and TV stations said.

One prison official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press that Mohammad Qamaruzzaman was put to death by hanging Saturday night inside the central jail in the capital, Dhaka.

A police official who was present during the execution inside the jail confirmed that Qamaruzzman was hanged.

There was no official announcement regarding carrying out the sentence against Qamaruzzman.

Popular channel, Somoy TV, reported that Qamaruzzman was hanged after performing all legal and religious procedures. Channel 24 said Qamaruzzman’s body would be taken for burial to his ancestral home in the Sherpur district in central Bangladesh.

Prosecutors say Qamaruzzaman, an assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, headed a militia group that collaborated with the Pakistani army in central Bangladesh in 1971 and was behind the killings of at least 120 unarmed farmers.

Bangladesh blames Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people during the nine-month war seeking independence from Pakistan. An estimated 200,000 women were raped and about 10 million people were forced to take shelter in refugee camps in neighboring India.

The execution took place after Qamaruzzaman refused to seek presidential clemency, paving the way for him to become the second person put to death since tribunals were set up more than four years ago to try suspected war criminals.

Earlier Saturday Junior Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan told reporters that Qamaruzzaman’s execution would proceed because he did not seek clemency.

Authorities heightened security in the capital and elsewhere ahead of Saturday’s execution.

Members of Qamaruzzaman’s family visited him in the afternoon for the last time in Dhaka’s central Jail, his lawyer Shishir Manir said.

On Monday, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court rejected Qamaruzzaman’s final legal appeal against the death sentence given to him by a special tribunal in May 2013. His only recourse would have been to seek a presidential pardon.

Bangladesh executed another Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary, Abdul Quader Mollah, in December 2013 for similar crimes.

Previous war crimes verdicts and Mollah’s execution have sparked violence.

Since 2010, two tribunals have convicted more than a dozen people, mostly senior leaders of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, which had openly campaigned against independence. Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest political party, says the trials are politically motivated.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunals in 2010, reviving a stalled process and making good on a pledge she made before 2008 elections.

There was a process of trying suspected war criminals after Bangladesh gained independence, but it was halted following the assassination of then-President and independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — Hasina’s father — and most of his family members in a 1975 military coup.

TIME Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the Slaying of Another Blogger Spotlights Spiraling Extremism

BANGLADESH-UNREST-RELIGION
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN—AFP/Getty Images A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30, 2015, after he was killed in an attack in the Bangladeshi capital.

Monday's attack is the second of the same nature within five weeks

A young blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in the Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Monday — the second such murder in just over a month and yet another case indicative of rising religious extremism in the South Asian nation.

Washiqur Rahman, 27, a secular writer known for openly criticizing Islamic fundamentalism, was attacked by three students in one of the sprawling city’s busiest areas.

Police caught two of the perpetrators on the spot with the weapons still in their possession, while a third reportedly escaped.

Monday’s killing bears eerie similarities to the murder of another blogger, Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy, five weeks earlier. Roy died in late February after being attacked with machetes by two assailants while he was returning from a book fair in Dhaka with his wife.

The incident prompted widespread fear in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, and also criticism of the government for not doing enough to protect freedom of speech.

“We condemn the government’s failure to protect bloggers, especially those who cover or comment on religion, fundamental freedoms and extremism of all kinds,” Benjamin Ismail, head of the Asia-Pacific desk of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement.

The rising instances of violence against secular writers over the last few years — another writer Ahmed Rajib Haider was assassinated in 2013 — has many of the country’s online activists running scared. Omi Rahman Pial, another prominent blogger, told the New York Times that several of his colleagues may seek asylum outside Bangladesh. Several others are beginning to take down their blogs, another activist said.

“There is definitely a level of worry among the people who are involved in blogging and expressing themselves on social networks,” Mohammad Golam Rahman, a journalism professor at the University of Dhaka, and no relation of the murdered blogger, tells TIME.

While Rahman said sudden attacks of this nature can be difficult to prevent, he conceded that the government should be doing more to protect bloggers and ensure freedom of speech. Although Bangladesh is over 90% Muslim, he adds, those espousing an “extremist ideology” only form a “small segment” of the population.

“The general view and general psyche of the population is that they condemn these activities,” says Rahman.

However, many of the comments on the blogger Rahman’s Facebook page belie that notion. “I felt sorry when I first learned of your death. But then I saw what you wrote and I am not,” reads one, according to CNN.

“Get ready for the afterlife,” says another, while a third simply reads: “See you in hell.”

Abdullah Fahim, a business student at Dhaka’s North South University, told the Times that 80% of Bangladeshis are probably against Rahman’s writing. “I don’t know why our government gave him the liberty to write against Islam,” he said.

TIME Bangladesh

North Korean Diplomat Caught Smuggling $1.4 Million in Gold in Bangladesh

Son Young Nam was carrying 60 pounds of gold

Bangladesh seized about $1.4 million worth of gold from a North Korean diplomat at Dhaka airport Friday, according to a senior official.

Customs officers detained Son Young Nam, the First Secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Dhaka, upon his arrival from Singapore with nearly 60 pounds of gold, according to Reuters. The chairman of the National Board of Revenue, Najbur Rahman, said that Nam had told officials there was nothing to scan in his hand luggage.

“Later we informed our foreign ministry and he was released on Friday under the Vienna Convention,” Rahman said.

The Vienna Convention grants diplomatic immunity to envoys like Nam, but Bangladesh said it will file charges in this case.

[Reuters]

TIME Bangladesh

Bangladesh Authorities Arrest Suspect in American Blogger’s Murder

BANGLADESH-UNREST-RELIGION
Munir Uz Zaman—AFP/Getty Images Bangladeshi Rapid Action Battalion personnel produce Farabi Shafiur Rahman (C), arrested over the machete murder of an atheist American blogger, during a photocall in Dhaka, Bangladesh on March 2, 2015.

Avijit Roy was hacked to death in Dhaka last week

Bangladeshi authorities have arrested a primary suspect in the murder of atheist blogger Avijit Roy.

Farabi Shafiur Rahman was taken into custody by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, Agence France-Presse reported. He allegedly threatened the victim on social media and spoke to another individual online about killing him.

A spokesman for the RAB — the country’s elite security force that mainly counters religious insurgency — described Rahman as a “fundamentalist blogger.” A source within the agency claimed that its officials had seen messages between Rahman and another person discussing Roy’s murder.

Roy, a Bangladeshi American living in Atlanta for the past 15 years, founded the Mukto-Mona blog — a collection of liberal writings that drew the ire of many hard-liners in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

The 42-year-old writer was assaulted by two unidentified attackers while returning from a book fair with his wife in Dhaka last week. The assailants hacked him to death with machetes. His wife survived but was grievously injured.

TIME Bangladesh

An American Atheist Writer Has Been Hacked to Death in Bangladesh

Police forensics investigate the scene where U.S. blogger of Bangladeshi origin was hacked to death by unidentified assailants in Dhaka on February 27, 2015.
Munir Uz Zaman—AFP/Getty Images Police forensics investigate the scene where U.S. blogger of Bangladeshi origin was hacked to death by unidentified assailants in Dhaka on February 27, 2015.

Avijit Roy had received several threats from Islamic fundamentalists over his secular writing

An American atheist blogger was hacked to death on Thursday in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

Two unidentified assailants attacked Avijit Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonna with machetes as the couple returned from a book fair, reports Agence France-Presse.

“He died as he was brought to the hospital. His wife was also seriously wounded. She has lost a finger,” said local police chief Sirajul Islam.

Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen, had received multiple threats from Islamic fundamentalists in the past for his writings.

He founded Mukto-Mona, a secular blog that featured liberal writings from around the Muslim-majority nation. He had published several well-known books including Biswasher Virus (Virus of Faith).

There has been a string of attacks on secular writers and academics in the South Asian country. In 2013, atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death by fundamentalists, sparking nationwide protests.

Hard-line Islamists in the country have long called for the slaying of writers critical of Islam.

Police have not yet identified the assailants but have launched an investigation and recovered the machetes used in the attack.

[AFP]

TIME Bangladesh

Arson Attack on Bus in Bangladesh Kills at Least Seven

Bangladesh Political Violence
A.M. Ahad—AP Hospital staff attend to the victims of a predawn firebomb attack on a bus as they receive treatment at the Medical College hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb. 3, 2015

Petrol bombs were thrown onto a packed bus

At least seven people died and 16 others were injured in an arson attack Tuesday on a crowded bus in Bangladesh, which is facing spiraling unrest amid strikes called by opposition parties demanding fresh elections.

The predawn attacks targeted sleepy passengers returning to the capital Dhaka from the eastern city of Cox’s Bazar. Many of those hurt have been admitted to hospital burn units, according to the Associated Press.

Since Jan. 5, the one-year anniversary of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s re-election, 53 people have died from arson attacks during violent opposition strikes known as hartals. Instability and violence during hartals killed approximately 300 in 2013 in the lead-up to the last election.

The government blames the current wave of arson attacks on supporters of ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which boycotted the 2014 polls and is now calling for a citywide transport shutdown to compel Hasina’s resignation. However, Zia denies any role in instigating the violence.

A new election is scheduled for Bangladesh in 2019.

[AP]

TIME Bangladesh

Political Turmoil Sparks Fresh Violence in Bangladesh

BANGLADESH-POLITICS-UNREST-OPPOSITION
STRDEL—AFP/Getty Images Burning vehicles, set on fire by opposition demonstrators, are pictured during violent protests in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Jan. 6, 2015

Street protests erupt a day after a senior opposition politician was shot and injured by unidentified assailants

The Bangladeshi capital Dhaka was hit by fresh violence on Thursday morning, with antigovernment protestors torching at least two vehicles a day after an opposition politician was shot and injured in what was reported to be a botched assassination attempt.

The attack on Riaz Rahman, a close aide to former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, drew international condemnation, with U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf condemning the “use of violence for political objectives.” The U.S., she said, was “shocked and saddened” by the attack on the former Bangladeshi Foreign Minister.

A 20-party alliance led by Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has called for a general shutdown today to protest the attack, the Daily Star, a local newspaper, reported.

Earlier, on Wednesday, antigovernment protesters firebombed a packed bus, killing four passengers, including a young child, according to the news agency Agence France-Presse.

Violence in the South Asian nation flared earlier this month when the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blocked opposition plans to hold antigovernment demonstrations on the anniversary of national polls that are disputed by Zia and her supporters. Authorities also confined Zia to her office in Dhaka, where she remains.

The BNP is calling on Prime Minister Hasina to step down and hold fresh elections.

TIME the backstory

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 27, 2014

Photojournalism Daily is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Mark Peterson‘s work on American megachurches. These churches are growing in popularity and Peterson photographed the phenomenon in Las Vegas on assignment for MSNBC, capturing how the vibrant worship and stage show draw crowds in a town also known as Sin City.


Mark Peterson: Megachurches (MSNBC)

Michael Robinson Chavez: Stratford, California (The Los Angeles Times) Compelling photographs from a Californian town hit hard by the state’s drought.

Annalisa Natali Murri: Emotions Reverabate After The Sky Crashed (The New York Times Lens) Poignant double exposures on the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse victims and their relatives.

Photojournalist Muhammed Muheisen awarded $10,000 Oliver S. Gramling Award for journalism (The Washington Post InSight) The Associated Press gives its chief photographer in Pakistan the highest staff honor

Jon Tonks (Verve Photo) The British photographer writes about the cover image of his book The Empire.

René Burri, Photographer of Picasso and Che, Dies at 81 (The New York Times) The Times obituary for the legendary Magnum photographer.


Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.


TIME Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Protests Are Creating a More Ethnically Unified City

Holing Yip Members from Hong Kong's South Asian community take part in a protest for democracy on October 9, 2014 in the Central district of Hong Kong.

Many members of Hong Kong's non-Chinese community have been swept up in the Umbrella Revolution

Jeffrey Andrews, a 29-year-old social worker of Indian origin, got a call from a Pakistani friend on the night of Sept. 28, when thousands of Hong Kong people, many of them students, had begun to occupy the streets to demand greater democracy. “What are we doing?” his friend said. “We should be out there with the students, this is our city.”

Andrews agreed, and the next day they mobilized a group of about 35 of their peers, printed banners that read “Hong Kong is our home, we ethnic minorities strive for democracy” and headed to Admiralty, the main protest site. Andrews admits that he was unsure what kind of reception and acceptance they would get from the ethnically Chinese crowd.

“As soon as we got out with our banners people just applauded, and we were so encouraged,” he said. And they’ve been going back there every night since then.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have flooded the streets since the end of September, defying Beijing in a protest that is widely seen as the most politically significant movement in China in more than two decades. Among the crowds are many non-Chinese, who insist that they too belong to the Umbrella Revolution, as the protests are being called, and that it belongs to them.

“Of course it is our movement,” says 19-year-old Kenny Omar, born and brought up in Hong Kong but Somali by origin. “We’re born here, we’re citizens, we support them.”

“This is just as much my city as it is anyone else’s,” says Nick, 23, a filmmaker of Indian origin who did not wish to give his last name. “I think the movement is way past race and ethnicity, it’s deep down in the core of humanity.”

His friend Kamal Mirwani, a travel writer who proudly sports the iconic Hong Kong skyline as a tattoo down his right leg, says the drive for full political rights has real urgency. “This is our chance — this is the only chance we get,” he says.

According to the 2011 census, Hong Kong is home to over 450,000 people of non-Chinese ethnicity, making up 6.4% of its total population. Some, like the Indians and Parsis, trace their roots back to the founding of modern Hong Kong as a British colony in 1841, when they were drawn by the fledgling settlement’s possibilities for trade. Others, like the Pakistanis and the Nepalese, came to provide the policing and military muscle of what was then an outpost of the Raj. Still later communities — like the Indonesians, Thais and Filipinos — came in large numbers to do domestic work as Hong Kong prospered into a global financial hub.

A few non-Chinese, particularly from the South Asian community, have become fabulously wealthy. But in general, Hong Kong’s minorities often face various problems, particularly in the fields of education and employment. According to government statistics, nearly two-thirds of the ethnic minority population earns less than $500 a month, in a city where the median income is more than three times that.

For several of them, supporting Hong Kong’s democracy campaign takes precedence over their pocketbook woes. “I think with this movement right now, it’s so important that we’re focused on the development of democracy, that we’re not really talking explicitly about other issues,” said Holing Yip, research officer for ethnic minority advocacy group Hong Kong Unison. “People are noticing ethnic minorities being a part of Hong Kong, being participants.”

Yip points out that ethnic minorities have always been involved in protest movements in Hong Kong, but says that she has seen an overwhelming sense of solidarity that sets the Umbrella Revolution apart.

“They really see this as a movement that they need to be a part of,” Yip said.

Or at least most do. Others prefer to adopt a neutral stance. “It’s not my job to keep track of what’s happening,” said Mohammad Noor, a 63-year-old Bangladeshi who has lived in Hong Kong for nine years and sells snacks, dates and prayer caps outside the Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre. “I think it is injustice to spoil this country,” he said. “It’s giving us a place to stay and work.”

Andrews says his group has faced some opposition of this nature, especially from older members of the community. “All of them say they’ve worked so hard to establish their businesses, and ask why we’re going against the flow of things,” he says. “Many of the Pakistanis even say their country has a great diplomatic relationship with China, that we’re going out and ruining it.” But he also says that negative comments make up only a sliver of the reaction they have encountered.

Unison’s Yip also detects a degree of fatalism. “One of the retorts would be ‘Even if the majority Chinese come out and they can’t do anything, what makes us feel like we can?’” she says. “But the others will say, ‘We are a part of this, if they are helpless, we are helpless too.’”

Nick, for his part, admits that he may not entirely subscribe to the ideology of the movement. But he says that’s irrelevant. “It’s less about whether I believe exactly in what’s going on, but I would be out there because I feel like it would affect the people of my city in the right way,” he says. “That’s why I’d be out there, to support them asking for what they believe is the right thing.”

“I think we’re finally being accepted as locals, we’re finally just like one of them,” says Andrews. “No matter what the result is going to be, at the end of the day I think we’re a much more unified Hong Kong than ever before.”

As the movement enters its fourth week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that — regardless of ethnicity — anyone who wants to get beneath the umbrella is welcome.

TIME foreign affairs

Soldiers From Poor Countries Have Become the World’s Peacekeepers

Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights.
AP Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights.

It is an unfair burden for troops who are less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped

On Aug. 28, rebels from the al-Qaeda-allied al-Nusra Front stormed the Golan Heights border crossing between Syria and Israel, home to one of the oldest U.N. peacekeeping operations. While two contingents of Philippine peacekeepers managed to flee the rebel attack, 45 Fijian troops were captured and taken away by the rebels to parts unknown.

The Fijians were finally released on Sept. 11, but the two-week crisis crystallized a persistent yet under-reported fact: while the U.N. calls upon the international community to act in times of crises, it is often soldiers from developing nations who shoulder the stiffest burden.

In 1994, on the heels of the Rwandan genocide, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S.) provided 20% of all U.N. peacekeeping personnel.

But by 2004, Security Council nations contributed only 5% of U.N. personnel. This July, amid a tumultuous summer of violent conflicts, that figure had dropped to a miserly 4%, while the governments of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Fiji, Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Philippines provided a staggering 39% of all U.N. forces.

Critics can counter this charge with stats of their own. After all, they say, the permanent members contribute 53% of the U.N.’s annual budget, far outstripping financial contributions made by countries of the global south. But recent years have also seen sluggish rates of payment from wealthier nations — delays that further strain an overburdened system supporting 16 peacekeeping missions around the world.

On balance, the troops contributed by developing countries are more likely to be less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped for the missions. Delays in financial contributions only complicate the challenges of modern peacekeeping.

So does the fractured nature of modern conflicts. Military experts, like General Sir Rupert Smith, have noted the shift from “industrial wars” of the past to today’s “war amongst the people.” Modern conflicts involve combatants whose ends are not merely the control of territory or the monopoly of politics. They wage war with their own rules, without concern for the U.N.’s mission to referee.

In response, peacekeeping has been hurriedly ramped up: more comprehensive mandates are issued and troops are cleared to use force in defense of civilians. But in the end, peacekeepers are redundant where there is no peace to keep.

The Golan Heights are no exception. The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force was set up 40 years ago precisely to observe the contentious border between Israel and Syria. Today, the threats aren’t even nation states. The peacekeepers in Golan must contend with spillover from Syria’s three-year-long civil war, and the aggression of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front. They are forced to become soldiers on the front lines of a perpetually asymmetrical conflict, treated as mere machine-gun fodder whenever the international community seeks to stem the spread of terror by piling blue helmets in its way.

In a New York Times op-ed of Aug. 29, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed U.S. intentions to use its position as president of the Security Council to coordinate a response to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East.

“The United States … will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters,” Kerry wrote, adding that “President Obama, addressing the Security Council, would construct a plan to deal with this collective threat.”

For observers, however, events in Golan should serve as a warning. If the U.N. and its leading members intend to tackle collective threats, it is time to address how best to equitably divide the collective risk. In service of international stability, leaders of the developed world have become far too comfortable asking developing countries to put their troops in the line of fire.

Adam McCauley is a Canadian writer and photographer currently based in Hong Kong. His work has appeared in TIME, the New York Times, Al Jazeera and online in the New Yorker.

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