AHRC TV: Indian building safety violations lead to deaths in fire and other stories in JUST ASIA, Episode 259

This week Just Asia begins with India, where criminal disdain for human life was seen again in a blaze claiming 22 young lives in a coaching institution in Surat, Gujarat, one of the country’s wealthiest states. Many of the students, trapped on the fourth floor of a building with no fire exits, were burnt alive or suffocated to death as they waited 45 minutes for the Fire Brigade to arrive. Although the Fire Department was aware of the building’s safety risks, it kept quiet due to corruption.

Next, Indonesia has seen unrest and violence leading up to the announcement of the presidential election results. After the Election Commission announced incumbent President Joko Widodo as the winner, opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto challenged the results. Prabowo’s supporters urged people to converge in Jakarta in protest. Six protesters died, hundreds of protesters were arrested, and 257 protesters were named as suspects under the Indonesian penal code. Many Prabowo supporters were charged and detained under the treason act of the Penal Code.

May 16th saw the passing of Eugene Soh, a man who dedicated his life working to defeat the military dictatorship in South Korea. Eugene passed away in the USA, of which he was a citizen. He had been living in Cambodia, where he contracted an illness that weakened him considerably. Just Asia speaks to Basil Fernando for his thoughts on Eugene Soh.

Moving to Pakistan, the national assembly has adopted a resolution to prevent forced conversions in the country. The resolution seeks to criminalize forced conversions, recommending seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to one million rupees for offenders. Forced conversions of minority groups are unfortunately common in Pakistan, and this resolution aims to deter the practice. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, some 1000 cases of forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls were reported in Sindh province alone last year.

Taiwan became the first country in Asia earlier this month to legalize same-sex marriage. Last Monday saw Taiwan’s first official weddings, marking a historic day for the country. The new law was passed on May 17 after years of debate, allowing same-sex couples full legal marriage rights, including in areas such as taxes, insurance and child custody. Hundreds of couples eagerly seized their first opportunity to finally tie the knot.

In Hong Kong, more than 2,000 people marched last Sunday to mark 30 years since the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing. Between June 3-4, 1989, thousands of unarmed protesters and onlookers were killed as the Chinese military retook Tiananmen Square after months of student led protests. While all commemorations of the bloodshed are strictly prohibited in China, Hong Kong holds annual vigils and other events to pay tribute. This year, demonstrators took to the streets holding yellow umbrellas that read “Support Freedom, Oppose Evil Laws.” The march had additional significance as opposition to a proposed extradition law widely seen as eroding Hong Kong’s independent legal system.

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