PAKISTAN (BBC) A Christian girl has been released on bail after she was arrested under the accusation that she violated Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. The girl, named Rimsha, was being held after a mob in Islamabad accused her of burning pages of the Koran. According to the controversial anti-blasphemy laws, anyone convicted of desecrating the Koran could face a life sentence. In most cases, blasphemy is not a bailable offense, but Rimsha’s lawyers were able to argue for bail based on the girl’s age (she is thought to be 14 years old). The judge in the case set bail at $10,500 and two guarantors posted bond under the assurance that Rimsha would appear before the court. In an interesting twist, an imam from the girl’s neighborhood was arrested and accused of putting pages of the Koran in the girl’s bag. There have been conflicting reports about the girl’s mental capacity and age. If released on bail, one of the main concerns for Rimsha’s supporters is the safety of her and her family. Her family have been taken into protective custody after receiving threats and are now at an undisclosed location. After the arrest, many Christian neighbors of the family fled the area. This case has sparked renewed condemnation of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. In many cases, accusations of violating the laws are used as a means of settling personal vendettas.
HONG KONG (BBC) The people of Hong Kong are set to vote on a new legislature. Pro-democracy candidates are expected to do well following week-long protests of proposed Chinese patriotism lessons in schools. Hong Kong, which was under British control until 1997, enjoys greater freedoms than mainland China, including freedom of the press and the right of assembly. There are 40 of 70 seats up for direct election with the main focus of the election campaigns being issues employment corruption and a growing number of visitors from mainland China. 3.5 million people are eligible to vote in the election and pro-democracy candidates are capitalizing on growing anger towards the Chinese government. It could also bring the issue of universal suffrage to the forefront of Hong Kong politics and a transition in the future more likely. The controversial education proposal led to thousands of protestors camping out in front of Hong Kong’s government headquarters. Opponents assert that the lessons are Communist Party propaganda and would whitewash events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests and the famine under Mao Zedong; however, the government said the goal was to foster a sense of national belonging. The proposed curriculum would have been introduced into primary schools in September and secondary schools in 2013. Now, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said the classes would be optional for schools. Results of the election are not expected until Monday.
INDIA (BBC) Women activists in India’s Karnataka state are demanding action against a High Court judge for allegedly making “outrageous and sexist remarks.” The judge, K Bhakthavatsala, is accused of stating it is acceptable for men to beat their wives as long as he “took good care of her,” in court. Violence against women is widespread in India with a reported 37% of women having suffered some kind of physical abuse at the hands of their husbands. Justice Bhakthavatsala says his statements were taken out of context. He says he is always in favor of reconciliation in failed marriages. However, women activists and lawyers say the justice advised a woman in a case to simply adjust to her circumstances and stay with her husband for her children’s well-being. Senior High Court lawyer and former state assembly lawmaker Pramilla Nesargi said she was present in court when the judge made the remarks. Activists have submitted a complaint to the state’s chief justice.
Is he trying to defend domestic violence? What is the message he is trying to convey by his statements? We are planning public action to seek his removal. – Donna Fernandes of Vimochana, a leading women’s rights group.
CHINA (BBC) The death toll rises in Yunnan and Guizhou in southwestern China after a series of earthquakes struck the region. So far, 80 people are reported dead and 730 people injured after the quakes hit on Friday. The earthquakes struck mostly mountainous areas which triggered landslides. The U.S. Geological Survey registered the two strongest of the quakes at 5.6 magnitude. China’s Xinhua news agency quoted officials in Yunnan as saying 6,650 houses had been destroyed in the province and 430,000 others damaged. The Red Cross has already sent tents and blankets to the area and the army has been deployed to help with rescue efforts. It’s said that rescuers have to climb mountains to reach hard hit villages since roads were blocked. Users of Weibo, a Twitter-like website, reported people were rushing out of shaking office buildings and photos have been posted of rubble strewn streets. Many aid agencies are concerned about children in the wake of the earthquakes saying that many may have been separated from their parents.
SOUTH KOREA (BBC) In a controversial move, South Korea’s coast guard will lead military exercises close to islands also claimed by Japan. The islands, called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan are equidistant from both nations. They have been the center of diplomatic tensions for some time, though tensions have risen in recent months after South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, visited the islands on August 10th. The Japanese government withdrew its ambassador to Seoul in protest. The exercises will also involve the army, navy and air force and carry out the scenario of the coast guard leading the way in repelling foreign civilians invading territorial waters around the islands. The military exercises will avoid landing on the islands in a diplomatic move that acknowledges the ongoing tensions between the two nations. In addition to President Lee’s visit, a group of 40 South Koreans participated in a relay swim to the islands to celebrate the country’s liberation from Japan in 1945. Japan is also involved in another territorial dispute with China over islands in the South China Sea. Leaders of all three nations are due at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Vladivostock this weekend. Officials for the Japanese government say that meetings between the three nations were unlikely to take place and it would be better if the meetings were not official.