Musharraf fails again to appear for treason trial

Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf is in hospital after his lawyers said he suffered chest pains on his way to court for his treason trial.

The 70-year-old was transferred to the Armed Forces Cardiology Hospital in Rawalpindi and is undergoing tests. It is the third time the former president has failed to appear in court following two previous security scares.

The treason charges relate to his decision in 2007 to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule. Mr Musharraf denies the charges and says all the accusations against him are politically motivated.

He is the first former military ruler to face trial for treason in Pakistan, which has a history of army rule. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death or life in prison.

The case puts the government, which brought the charges, on a collision course with the all-powerful army, which faces the embarrassment of having its former chief tried by civilians.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won a third term in May’s general election, was the man Musharraf ousted in his 1999 coup and the former general’s lawyers say he is using the case to exact revenge.

Since returning from self-imposed exile in March to run in the election, Musharraf has faced various serious criminal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule. He stands accused of murder over the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as well as charges over the death of a rebel leader, a deadly military raid on a radical mosque and the detention of judges.

Bangladesh Islamist hanged for war crimes

Bangladesh has executed the Islamist leader Abdul Kader Mullah, who was convicted of atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence with Pakistan. He is the first person convicted by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) to be executed.

The ICT was set up in 2010 to investigate abuses committed during the 1971 conflict.

Mullah was a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. At his trial earlier this year, he was described by prosecutors as the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’, a suburb of Dhaka where he is alleged to have carried out his crimes. These included the massacre of unarmed civilians and the killing of intellectuals who supported independence from Pakistan. Mullah always denied the charges.

Four other leading figures in Jamaat-e-Islami have also been convicted by the ICT and face the death penalty.

Mullah’s execution took place at Dhaka Central Jail at 22:01 local time (16:01 GMT) on the evening of December 12, officials announced. His family were allowed a final meeting with the 65-year-old and found him ‘calm’.

‘He told us that he is proud to be a martyr for the cause of the Islamic movement in the country,’ his son, Hasan Jamil, told the AFP after the meeting.

Hundreds of people gathered in central Dhaka to celebrate the news of his death. But Jamaat-e-Islami — which has warned it will avenge his death — called for a general strike. Security has been tightened in Dhaka and around the country amid fears the execution is likely to inflame tensions.

Rare meeting between top Indian and Pak military men

Top Indian and Pakistani military officials have met for the first time in 14 years to discuss ways to ensure peace along Kashmir’s de facto border.

The Director Generals Military Operations (DGMOs) met at the Wagah crossing to work out a mechanism to ease tension, reports say. The disputed Himalayan region is divided between India and Pakistan by the Line of Control (LoC).

Bilateral ties have been strained this year by a series of deadly clashes. The violence has left a number of soldiers dead on both sides, including five Indian soldiers killed in August.

Reports suggest the talks look like a gesture from the military on both sides that they are serious about mending fences.

India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring militants in the disputed region — though despite a recent rise in attacks, overall violence has declined since the early 2000s. But relations plunged again over the 2008 Mumbai attack, which India blamed on militants based in Pakistan.

In September, the leaders of India and Pakistan, Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif met on the sidelines of the UN assembly in New York and pledged to work together to halt the upsurge of violence in Kashmir.

Muslim converts convicted of killing British soldier

Two British Muslim converts were found guilty of murder on December 19 after hacking a soldier to death in broad daylight on a London street in a gruesome killing that horrified the nation.

The murder, its impact magnified by video footage showing the culprits with blood soaked hands explaining their actions, provoked a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in Britain, anti-Islamist street protests and government promises of tougher action on radical Islamist preachers.

British spy chiefs are also facing questions over whether they could have prevented the attack on Drummer Lee Rigby, charges that echo previous criticisms of the security services.

A jury at London’s Old Bailey criminal court took just over 90 minutes to unanimously find Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale guilty of murdering Rigby, an Afghan war veteran, near an army barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, on May 22.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would ask the court to find that the murder was motivated by terrorism when the defendants come to be sentenced in January.

The Woolwich attack was the first killing by Islamist militants in London since four young British Muslims murdered 52 people in al Qaeda-inspired suicide bombings on the capital’s transport network in July 2005.

Highlighting the horrors of genocide

The horrors of the Bangladesh Liberation War were the focal point of a book recently published by New Millennium, an affiliation of Asian Affairs magazine, and launched at the Washington Mayfair Hotel in London on Wednesday November 27.

Dr William Crawley of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies chaired the event, setting out a brief historical background to the themes of Dr M A Hasan’s book, Beyond Denial: The Evidence of a Genocide, and its provenance.

The author and editor were there to discuss the work, which charts in graphic detail the genocide perpetrated by the Pakistani military in its suppression of Bengali nationalism. Dr Hasan’s own eye-witness accounts offer ‘compelling and irrefutable evidence’ of some of the most inhumane acts ever committed.

Two weeks later, on Thursday December 12, The Democracy Forum held its final debate of 2013 in the House of Commons. Speakers included Professor Martin Shaw of Sussex and Roehampton Universities; Dr Nigel Eltringham from the International Network of Genocide Scholars; and Dr M A Hasan, author of Beyond Denial and convener of the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee (WCFFC), Bangladesh.

Among the topics discussed were the scope of the problem of genocide today and issues of intervention; what motivated the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh, why it had been ignored by the Western media, and whether this was connected with Pakistan’s then alliance with the United States.

The events were well attended by members of the press, public and various think tanks.

Obama honours ‘Madiba’

US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to Nelson Mandela as ‘the last great liberator of the 20th century’ at a memorial service in Johannesburg, following the former South African leader’s death on December 5, at the age of 95.

He told a jubilant and emotional crowd in Soweto’s FNB Stadium: ‘To the people of South Africa — people of every race and walk of life — the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.

‘His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.’

Comparing Mr Mandela to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the President said: ‘Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe — Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.’

Mr Obama told how he had been inspired by Mr Mandela’s story and the struggle against apartheid as a student. He said: ‘It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities — to others, and to myself — and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today.

‘And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us.’

The service brought together an unprecedented number of dignitaries, including three former US presidents, who were commemorating the anti-apartheid icon alongside tens of thousands of South Africans who had queued since before dawn to secure a seat.

Russia frees jailed punk band members

Both jailed members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose incarceration sparked a global outcry, have been released under an amnesty law — although Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina dismissed the amnesty as a publicity stunt before the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, and promised to continue their vocal opposition to the government.

The women were jailed in August 2012 after performing a protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral, an act that was seen as blasphemous by many Russians and condemned by the Orthodox Church.

Their conviction for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ was criticised by rights groups, anti-Putin activists and foreign governments.

The amnesty aimed to free some 20,000 prisoners, and in a separate move, President Vladimir Putin pardoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia’s richest man, on humanitarian grounds.

He was freed after more than ten years in prison for fraud and tax evasion and has since promised to stay out of politics.

China opposes proposed Norway visit by Dalai Lama

China’s Foreign Ministry has expressed anger at plans by the Dalai Lama to visit Norway, a country with which China already has strained ties following the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to prominent Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

‘China resolutely opposes any country receiving the Dalai Lama. China resolutely opposes any form of official meetings with the Dalai Lama by government officials of other countries,’ ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a local news briefing.

Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader would be coming to Norway in May, but that he was coming at the invitation of local Buddhist groups, not the Nobel Committee. Still, Lundestad said they have expressed a wish to meet with him, as ‘next year will also be the 25th anniversary of his Nobel peace prize.’

In 2010, Norway’s diplomatic relations with China were frozen after the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu, a veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing which the government brutally crushed.

China has long defended its iron-fisted rule in Tibet, saying the region suffered from dire poverty, brutal exploitation and economic stagnation until 1950, when Communist troops ‘peacefully liberated’ Tibet.

Tensions in China’s Tibetan regions are at their highest in years after a spate of self-immolation protests by Tibetans, which have led to an intensified security crackdown.

India’s request to accredit diplomat approved by UN

The United Nations has approved a request from India to accredit a New York-based diplomat after her arrest by US authorities on criminal charges including visa fraud, a UN official has confirmed.

Indian media said the request to transfer Devyani Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, to the United Nations was aimed at ending the stand-off with the United States in the hopes that her new diplomatic status could allow New Delhi to bring her home without the prosecution proceeding.

Khobragade’s arrest on December 12 has enraged India, which is demanding that all charges be dropped against her. She was strip searched and subjected to an invasive body search when arrested by US Marshals. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath has said, ‘The conduct and attitude that the US has shown regarding the Devyani issue is a matter of concern not only for India but also for all countries, and everyone should raise their voice.’

As India’s deputy consul general in New York, Khobragade had only limited diplomatic immunity from prosecution — not the more sweeping immunity accorded to UN-accredited diplomats.

UN warns South Sudan over alleged crimes against humanity

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has warned warring factions in South Sudan that reports of crimes against humanity will be investigated, as eyewitnesses spoke of a wave of brutal ethnic killings.

Ban asked the Security Council to nearly double the size of the UN mission in the country, which has been hit by escalating battles between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing his rival Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked in July.

With fighting ongoing, badly overstretched UN bases in the capital Juba and across the country have been flooded with at least 45,000 civilians, some of whom have recounted an orchestrated campaign of mass killings and rape by government forces.

The official toll is 500 dead, although the real figure is believed to be far higher, aid workers say. Hundreds of thousands of others have fled to the countryside, prompting warnings of an imminent humanitarian disaster.

Fighting has spread to half of the young nation’s 10 states, the UN said on December 24.

Rebel fighters are also reported to have committed atrocities in areas they control, as the oil-rich but impoverished nation, which won independence from Sudan to much fanfare just two years ago, appeared to be sliding deeper into civil war.

‘The world is watching all sides in South Sudan,’ Ban told reporters ahead of emergency Security Council talks on the crisis.