This week Just Asia begins with Sri Lanka, where President Maithripala Sirisena told parliament last week that he was ready to bring back the death penalty for drug offenders within one or two months. The last hanging in Sri Lanka took place in 1976, since when there has been a moratorium on capital punishment. President Sirisena visited the Philippines in January, and was inspired by President Rodrigo Dutertes’ ruthless tactics in dealing with drug dealers and criminals.
Next, Burma’s Rakhine state is seeing yet another military crackdown, with soldiers shelling villages, blocking food supplies and detaining civilians. The recent crackdown began after an armed ethnic Rakhine group attacked four police posts on January 4, reportedly killing 13 officers. According to the UN, more than 5,200 people have been displaced by the subsequent fighting. Most of the displaced belong to Buddhist ethnic minorities.
Moving to Indonesia, neither of the country’s two presidential candidates are talking human rights in their campaign. The first presidential debate organized by the National Election Commission on January 17 was meant to focus on human rights and law enforcement, but neither President Mr. Joko Widodo, running for his second term, nor Mr. Prabowo Subianto, representing the opposition, explained how they would address the many gross violations of human rights cases pending from the Suharto regime until the present. The debate was widely criticized by victims and family members of past human rights abuses.
In the Philippines, the January 30 murder of peace activist Randy Malayo is the latest attack on human rights defenders in the country. Malayao worked with peasant groups in Cagayan Valley, pushing for the welfare of farmers and fisherfolk, and fighting against militarization in remote areas. According to data from human rights group Karapatan, there have been at least 134 defenders killed under the Duterte administration.
Next, in India, there is jubilation in the country’s north-east region due to the lapse of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill. India’s north-east has been rocked with protests over the past few months due to the inherently flawed bill that proposed citizenship rights for persecuted minorities from the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Bill flouted many articles of the Indian constitution including Article 15, prohibiting discrimination solely on the basis of religion.
In Pakistan, Asia Bibi continues to remain in hiding after the country’s top court dismissed all petitions against her on January 29, and upheld her acquittal from blasphemy charges. Asia’s close friend and rights campaigner said she has been moved to a new “secure area” in Karachi. Aman Ullah added that she and her husband are locked in a single room in a house where the door opens only “at food times”. Although Asia has been offered asylum by Canada, where her two daughters already are, she is not being allowed to leave.
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