South Asia

Sri Lanka dissidents reject Buddhist fascism

As Sri Lanka marks the 10-year anniversary of the end of its long internal war, a new wave of communal violence has erupted following the Easter Sunday  terror attacks. In days of anti-Muslim riots, mobs have ransacked mosques and attacked shops with petrol bombs. The Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena, which has been repeatedly linked to such pogroms since its founding in 2012, is named as having instigated much of the violence. But just as many Sri Lankan Muslims have held peace vigils to repudiate the Easter attacks and declare their solidarity with Christians, some Sinhalese Buddhists have repudiated the pogroms and declared their solidarity with Muslims. (Photo via SriLankaTweet)

Iran

Orwellian ironies of US Persian Gulf war moves

Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, Trump has dispacthed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom’s energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and “sectarian cleansing” in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let’s hope that Trump’s mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime. (Photo via Stars & Stripes)

Iraq

Shi’ite militia forces ‘sweep’ Iraq-Syria border

Baghdad’s irregular Hashd al-Shaabi militia has joined with the National Defense Forces, one of the Assad regime’s paramilitary militias, to conduct “sweeps” along the Iraqi-Syrian border for remnant ISIS cells. These are both sectarian Shi’ite formations backed by Iran. The use of such sectarian militias has been concomitant with widespread abuses of the Sunni population of the region. Human Rights Watch is now urging the Iraqi government to reject a plan for the indefinite detention of whole families with suspected ISIS affiliations. Under the plan, up to 300,000 could be interned in camps in the desert. (Photo: Defense Post)

South Asia

Pakistan: Taliban target Sufi shrine —again

At least 10 people were killed and 25 others injured in a suicide blast that targeted security forces guarding a famous Sufi shrine in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The attack, which came during the holy month of Ramadan, was apparently aimed at a police vehicle, and five officers are among the dead. The Data Darbar shrine, where Sufi saint Ali Hajveri is buried, was the target of a 2010 suicide attack that killed more than 40 worshipers, and has since been under heavy security. The new attack was claimed by the Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Greater Middle East

Saudi Arabia executes 37 for terror-related crimes

Saudi Arabia executed 37 men for terrorism-related crimes. Among those killed, 11 were accused of spying on behalf of Iran. Fourteen were convicted for offenses pertaining to anti-government protests. Most of the convicts were Shi’ite, and were predominantly from the country’s Shia-majority eastern province. One was arrested when he was 16 years old. Amnesty International harshly criticized the mass execution, charging that torture was used to secure forced confessions in some of the cases. Amnesty also said Saudi Arabia’s executing of those who were under the age of 18 at the time the offense was committed constitutes a violation of international human rights law. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)

Greater Middle East

Bahrain court sentences 139 on terrorism charges

Bahrain’s High Criminal Court sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Bahrain’s ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia. The mass sentencing was immediately condemned by Amnesty International: “With these outrageous sentences, Bahrain’s authorities have once again demonstrated their complete disregard for international fair trial standards.” In February, Bahrain convicted 167 people of participating in a non-violent sit-in, and in a separate May 2018 trial 115 people were stripped of their citizenship. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)

Afghanistan

Hazaras targeted with relentless terror

In Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, at least 16 were killed and over two dozen injured in a blast that targeted members of the Shi’ite Hazara community. Eight of those killed in the blast at a crowded vegetable market were Hazara. This was the latest in a relentless wave of terror against the Hazara people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. In March, three were killed and some 20 injured when a mortar attack struck a gathering in Kabul commemorating the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, leader of the Hazaras’ Hizb-e-Wadhat Party and a key figure in the Mujahedeen resistance movement of the 1980s. Assassinated in 1995 by the Taliban, he was recently awarded the title of “Martyr of National Unity.” The Kabul ceremony was attended by high officials and billed as a step toward national reconciliation. ISIS took credit for the attack, but the ongoing terror campaign leaves many Afghan Hazaras concerned about the current peace talks with the Taliban.

Iran

US-Tehran terror-baiting tit-for-tat

In an amusingly grim development, Donald Trump formally designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “foreign terrorist organization,” and Tehran’s Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by declaring the Pentagon’s Central Command a “terrorist organization.” Both moves mark a first, applying the designation to government entities. The perverse irony, of course, is that both Trump and Tehran can be seen as perfectly correct. Left-secular forces in the Middle East have long decried that the region is caught between two poles of terrorism—that of political Islam and that of US imperialism. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are complicit with “sectarian cleansing” of Sunni Muslims in Syria. CENTCOM’s warplanes meanwhile virtually destroyed the city of Raqqa in the battle against ISIS—with civilian casualties nearly doubling after Trump took over. Yet in Iraq, the US and Iran were in a de facto alliance—both supporting Baghdad and fighting ISIS. And indeed, given Washington’s growing tilt to Assad in the Syrian war, an element of this alliance can be seen there as well. That’s why they call it a Great Game.

Iraq

Iraq prosecuting children suspected of ISIS ties

Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government authorities have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged Islamic State affiliation based on dubious accusations and forced confessions obtained through torture, Human Rights Watch charges. The 53-page report claims that Iraqi and KRG authorities often arrest children with "any perceived" connection to ISIS, use torture to coerce confessions and prosecute them in "hasty and unfair trials." International law observes children recruited by armed groups as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. (Photo: WikiMedia via Jurist)

South Asia

Kashmiris under attack across India

As India and Pakistan exchange military strikes in the wake of last week's massive suicide blast in Kashmir, many cities across India report cases of targeted violence against Kashmiri students and businesses by right-wing groups. Members of Yuva Sena, youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena, attacked Kashmiri students in Maharashtra. Colleges in Dehradun and Bhopal expelled Kashmiri students for posting objectionable content on social media about the suicide attack. A video surfaced on social media showing a Kashmiri man being beaten in Kolkata, West Bengal, by a mob which forced him to chant patriotic slogans like "Vande Mataram" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai" ("Mother, I praise thee" and "Victory to Mother India," two phrases appropriated by the Hindu-nationalist right). (Photo via KashmirWatch)

Greater Middle East

House resolution to end Yemen military aid

The US House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 37, calling for the withdrawal of US armed forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen. The resolution states that only Congress has the authority to declare war, and notes that Congress has not made any declaration of war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are the target of Saudi-led forces. US armed forces have supported Saudi Arabia through aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, and mid-flight aerial refueling. The resolution gives President Trump 30 days to withdraw forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen. Forces which are involved in operations directed at al-Qaeda in the region are exempt from the resolution. The resolution also does not restrict the sharing of intelligence. It also specifies that the resolution does not impact military operations undertaken in cooperation with Israel. (Photo via Jurist)

Greater Middle East

Bahrain upholds life sentence of opposition leader

Bahrain’s highest court  upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with then-Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but sentenced to life in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices." (Photo: Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain)