Response to Violence in Hyderabad

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HYDERABAD, India – The southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has been facing extensive violence and disorder in its streets, as continual rioting has plagued its streets since Saturday.  The riots allegedly began as a result of an agitated skirmish over decorations for the celebration of the Hindu deity Hanuman’s birthday.  Hindus and Muslims both committed violent acts towards one another as the Hyderabad streets dissolved into chaos.   Communal tensions between the two religious groups are not new to the state of Andhra Pradesh, which has an approximately 60:40 Hindu-to-Muslim population ratio.

It seems that greater friction between Hindus and Muslims has manifested since the Indian government began discussing splitting the Andhra Pradesh state.  However, the riots that began on Saturday represented an instance in which the streets of Hyderabad were consumed in violent action.  There have been myriad reports of people setting buildings aflame, damaging vehicles on the street and turning the Andhra Pradesh streets essentially to a war zone.  Also, about five mosques and one Hindu temple were damaged in the streets

Approximately one-hundred people have been arrested in connection to the rioting thus far.  While there has only been one reported death, a man who was stabbed to death in the riots, scores more have been injured to varying degrees.  The continual activity and disturbance on the Hyderabad streets would have made it difficult to deliver assistance to those who have sustained injuries.

The police have allegedly been looking into possible catalysts for the extensive violence.  However, cooperation from Indian nationals has been difficult to attain.  In order to crack down on the raging communities in the Muslim-majority Old Hyderabad, where the riots spiraled out of control, the police stations in various parts of the city have been subject to a curfew.  Fluctuations in the terms of the curfew have occurred over the week, including relaxations to allow women and older women to wander.

Both Hindu and Muslim groups claim that the government has done a poor job in quelling the riots, declaring that there was actually a Congressional interest in allowing the riots to continue.  These allegations, however, have yet to be confirmed or substantiated.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Curfew follows Hyderabad riots – 30 March 2010

HinduJagruti – Jihadi Riots in Hyderabad… – 31 March 2010

SifyNews – Shoot-at-sight orders issued in Hyderabad… – 30 March 2010

Hateful Speech and Actions Directed at Minority Congressmen

By Stephen Kopko

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States-The recently passed health care reform bill has been a cause of contention and disagreement for a great period of time.  This tension rose to new heights in the days leading up to the vote.  Opponents protesting the bill used violent and abusive language while they engaged in civil protests on Capitol Hill.  This language was directed at minority members of Congress.

While they were walking into the House of Representatives for a procedural vote on the health care reform bill, African American Congressmen were heckled and called racial slurs by some protestors.  Congressman John Lewis and Congressman Andre Carson were called racial epithets as the proceeded to the House Chamber for the vote.  Congressman Lewis is a prominent civil rights leader who demonstrated against the segregationist policies of the 1960’s with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Congressman Lewis previously had his skull fractured during the civil rights struggle during the crossing of the Pettus Bridge in Alabama in 1965.  After being called the racial slurs, Congressman Lewis stated, “I haven’t heard anything like this in 40, 45 years.”

Another African American Congressman faced hateful speech and actions as he proceeded to the health care vote.  Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver was spat on by a protestor as he walked to the Capitol.  The protestor was arrested by Capitol Police but Congressman Cleaver did not press charges. In a statement issued by his office, the Congressman stated that the protests were “not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans.”  Nevertheless, the Congressman stated that he was disappointed in the behavior of certain protestors.

Some protestors also directed their attacks at Congressman Barney Frank, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.  As Congressman Frank walked between the House office buildings he was called anti-gay slurs.  Congressman Frank is one of the few openly homosexual members of Congress.

Democratic and Republican leaders condemned the abusive language and actions of the protestors.  House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the actions of those protestors “despicable” and stated; “America always has room for open and spirited debate, and the hateful actions of some should not cast doubt on the good motives of the majority, on both sides of this arguments.”  House Minority Leader John Boehner called the language and actions “reprehensible.”

For more information, please see:

MSNBC-Health bill opponents heckle top Dems-22 March 2010

FOX News-Tea Party Leader, GOP Condemn Racial Slurs Hurled at Black Lawmakers-21 March 2010

NY Times-Spitting and Slurs Directed at Lawmakers-20 March 2010

Somali’s Protest the Destruction of Sacred Tombs

By Jared Kleinman

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa Desk

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Hundreds of Somalis took to the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, protesting against Al-Shabaab militants this Monday.

The protests began a few days after Al-Shabaab fighters, led by their commanders, began a destruction of the graves of revered religious leaders from the Sufi branch of Islam in the capital. This was only the nation’s second public demonstration against Al-Shabaab.
 
The protesters were mostly women and children, along with traditional warriors wearing white clothes, armed with spears and wooden shields.  The protesters chanted anti-Al-Shabaab slogans including ‘death to the monster’ and waving the Somali flag in the mainly government-held areas of Mogadishu. Some of the demonstrators carried posters with slogan such as “Down and defeat to Al-Shabaab,” observers said. They also carried slogans to support the transitional government such as “Support Peace and Government.”

The demonstration was staged in a government-controlled area of the city and was guarded by government forces, according to Yusuf Mohamed, who works for Shabelle Radio in Mogadishu.

“People were really disturbed by the move of Al-Shabaab to destroy the tombs of the revered sheikhs of Ahlu Sunna” said Mohyadin Hassan Afrah, who leads a civil society umbrella group in Mogadishu.

Al-Shabaab follows the strict Saudi Arabian-inspired Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, rather than the Sufi Islam of many Somalis. “We call for a holy war against them,” said Sheikh Abdulkadir Somow, from the Sufi Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama group, which recently signed a deal with the government in neighboring Ethiopia.

Al-Shabaab argues that graves were being worshipped and that it is un-Islamic. Ali Mohamed Husein, the head of al-Shabaab explained to reporters his disapproval of people worshipping the remains of the dead bodies in tombs. “That is why we want to eradicate them, because there is nothing to worship or to ask help from but Allah.”

Al-Shabaab, which is in the list of Washington’s most wanted foreign terrorist group, is fighting the UN-backed government in a bid to overrun the Horn of African nation and subject it to strict version of Sharia Law.

Somalia has not had an affective government since warlords overthrew long time dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

For more information, please see:

Africa News – Hundreds Kick Against Al-Shabaab – 30 March 2010

Garrowe Online – Mogadishu residents protest against Al-Shabaab – 30 Mar 2010

CNN – Hundreds protest against Al-Shabaab in Somalia – 29 March 2010

Bombing Kills 13 In Helmand Market

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan- An explosion in a village market in the south Afghan province oh Helmand has left at least 13 Afghan dead and injured 43.

The attack occurred in Babji, near Lashkar Gah, a volatile city with a significant Taliban presence about 25 miles to the north.  The attack targeted farmers and other Afghans who were in line to receive fertilizer and seeds from the Nato-backed Food Zone program, which is designed to persuade farmers to switch from poppy cultivation, the most profitable crop in Helmand to wheat and other crops.  The area is close to Marjah, the focus of a major offensive against the Taliban.

Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor, said 45 people were wounded, including eight children and a policeman.  The province is a focus of the Taliban insurgency against the American-led coalition in Afghanistan. “The Taliban and narcotics smugglers were behind this attack, said Mr. Ahmadi.  He added ” This was an attempt at intimidating people and stopping the process of development and peace-building in the province.”

Col. Kamaluddin Khan, the acting Helmand provincial police chief, said the bomb was hidden on a bicycle, but the district governor of Gerehk, Haji Abdul Ahad Khan blamed a suicide bomber on a motorcycle.

The blast was centered around a busy shopping area known as the Wednesday bazaar, a weekly market for villagers from the area surrounding Gerehk who come to sell livestock, food and other goods and to buy their own supplies.

The international Security Assistance Force (ISAF) international peacekeepers said they had sent a patrol to the scene to help the Afghan authorities.  An ISAF official, speaking anonymously said the bomb had probably been a crudely made improvised explosive device.  In recent years the Taliban have issued statements instructing their fighters to reduce the number of civilian deaths.

For insurgents and the security forces alike, protecting civilians the protection of civilians is the prize of the war for Afghanistan.  However the  bomb appears to have been placed and detonated at a time when a maximum number of civilian casualties could be expected, according to correspondents.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, said on his visit to Afghanistan that the operation in Marjah was moving forward successfully.  Adm Mullen said Kandahar would be the main focus in the coming summer months.

He added that Kandahar would be a greater challenge than Helman. “Kandahar is not Marjah, we understand that..It is a much bigger challenge and in that regard has much greater potential to achieve this goal of reversing the momentum.”

For more information, please see:
New York Times- Afgan Bomb Aims at Anti-Opium Aid– 31 March 2010
Reuters- Bomb Attack Kills At Least 8 Afghans– 31 March 2010

Belgian Parliamentary Committee Votes to Ban Face-Covering Islamic Veils

Photo: If the Belgian parliament approves the home affairs committees resolution, women in Belgium could face fines and imprisonment for wearing the burka and the niqab. Source: John Moore/Getty Images
A Belgian parliamentary committee has unanimously voted to prohibit the wearing of the burqa and the niqab in public. Source: John Moore/Getty Images

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium – The Belgian parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee has unanimously approved a draft law calling for the prohibition of the wearing of face-covering Islamic veils, such as the niqab and the burqa, in public. If the proposed law is passed individuals could face fines of up to €25 or seven days in prison for wearing the burqa or the niqab.

The measure, which has the backing of all five parties in the ruling coaltion, still needs to be approved by the parliament before becoming law and is likely to be voted upon by April 22, 2010. If approved, Belgium would be the first European country to implement such a ban.

Support for the measure has transcended both party and linguistic lines in Belgium. Daniel Bacquelaine, the liberal MP who proposed the bill, told channel RTL in Brussels:

“A person cannot claim the right to see another person without being seen himself . . . I think there is also an aspect related to human dignity — the women’s imprisonment under a burqa is not acceptable in a civilized society.”

Denis Ducarme of the Belgian center-right Refomist Movement said: “This is a very strong signal that is being sent to Islamists . . . I am proud that Belgium would be the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter”.

Several districts in Belgium have already banned such veils under old local laws designed to prohibit people from fully masking their faces during carnival.

There are roughly 500,000 Muslims living in Belgium, and, according to the Belgian Muslim Council, only a couple dozen Muslim women in Belgium actually wear the face-covering veils. Bacquelaine has admitted that there is no current problem with the face-covering veils, but said: “We have to act as of today to avoid [its] development.”

The proposal has raised the alarm among those who see such regulation as an attack on civil liberties. Isabelle Praile, the vice-president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, remarked that such a law could set a dangerous precedent. She was quoted by AFP news agency as saying:

“Today it’s the full-face veil, tomorrow the veil, the day after it will be Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini-skirts . . . The wearing of a full-face veil is part of [an] individual’s freedoms.”

Guy Harpigny, a Catholic bishop in the southern Belgian town of Tournai, said: “Does the state really have the right to regulate the symbols of  personal beliefs?

Measures to ban face-covering veils have also been considered, as of late, in France, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Last week French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “The all-body veil is contrary to the dignity of women . . . The answer is to ban it. The government will introduce a bill to ban it that conforms to the principles of our laws.”

The headscarf has already been banned in French schools on the grounds that it is to ‘conspicuous’ of a religious symbol to be allowed in secular state schools. No nation-wide ban on the headscarf in the classroom has yet been passed in Belgium, but last year the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in Belgium passed a law banning the wearing of Muslim head scarves in state-run schools.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders – a far right politician who received considerable support in recent local elections – has campaigned for Muslim veil bans, and has warned of the “Islamification” of Dutch society.

The debate over face-covering veils has not been confined to Europe. Last week the Canadian province of Quebec introduced a parliamentary measure which would prohibit those in public service employment from wearing facial coverings.  The measure has received overwhelming public support.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Belgian politicians back veil ban – 31 March 2010

BBC – Belgian committee votes for full Islamic veil ban – 31 March 2010

The Guardian – Belgium moves towards public ban on burqa and niqab – 31 March 2010

Radio Free Europe – Belgian Parliamentary Panel Approves Draft Law Banning Full Veil in Public – 31 March 2010