A Banner Week in the Fight For Justice in Bangladesh
By Dr. Richard L. Benkin - Correspondent, "Asian Tribune"
The week of November 13, 2006, might prove a watershed in the battle to secure
freedom and justice for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, Bangladeshi journalist.
Choudhury has been under attack by his government for publishing articles that
warned his country about the growth of radical Islamists there, urged Bangladesh to recognize Israel, and
advocated genuine interfaith dialogue based on religious equality and mutual
respect. For these "crimes," he was arrested and tortured and his
When his younger brother, Sohail Choudhury, went
to the police to complain that he was beaten, they responded that it was the Choudhurys’ fault for their "alliance with the
Jews." Even after we were successful in getting him released from prison,
Choudhury faced continued harassment from the Bangladeshi government and
The government "discouraged" advertisement in Choudhury’s paper, Weekly
Blitz; it refused to let him travel and for a while held his passport.
Thugs—including members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)—beat and
threatened him while police aware of the attacks, did nothing. In fact, after
one beating, the police went after Choudhury and let the attackers
occupy his newspaper office.
Then on September 18, 2006, a judge with Islamist connections ruled that
Choudhury would stand trial for "Sedition, Treason, and Blasphemy."
"By praising Christianity and Judaism," the judge and prosecutor
said, Choudhury "hurt Islam…and by [calling for] relations between Bangladesh and Israel [he] offended the sentiments
of Muslims." For this Choudhury could lose his life. But as noted above,
the fight to save him—and by extension the millions of other moderate Muslims
in the Muslim world and religious minorities and dissidents in Bangladesh—took
a giant step forward; propelled by activity in four different places around the
Monday, November 13, Bangladesh:
By previous court order, the government was to begin presenting witnesses
against Choudhury. In a surprise move, however, and contrary to Bangladeshi
law, the government instead conducted a reprise of the "framing of the
charge," and asked Choudhury to declare his guilt or innocence. After he
pled "Not Guilty" and attacked the legality of the proceedings, the
court set the next date as January 22, 2007—a move intended to avoid taking any
action under the tenure of the current government; but a move that also gave
world opinion time to work.
Tuesday, November 14, Washington, DC: Representative Mark Kirk—Choudhury’s
long time defender in the US Congress—introduced a Congressional Resolution on
behalf of himself and Representative Nita Lowey calling on the Bangladesh
government to drop all charges against Choudhury and cease other forms of
harassment against him. It also placed in the record, the US Congress’s
recognition that the government of Bangladesh regularly oppresses
journalists and others contrary to all standards of human rights.
Such resolutions express serious Congressional sentiment and can serve as a
basis for more concrete action if ignored; for instance, action regarding Bangladesh’s
$63 million in annual US aid. It also could be a clear signal to Americans that
by purchasing Bangladeshi garments, they are supporting a repressive and
Islamist regime. The Resolution, which is expected to pass by early December,
indicates a level of frustration with the Bangladeshi government’s record of
injustice and deliberate appeasement of Islamist radicals. It puts to rest
attempts by the BNP government to convince US lawmakers that Bangladesh is fighting
Wednesday, November 15, Canada and Australia: After an article in one of
Australia’s largest dailies, as well as articles and radio shows about
Choudhury in Canada, Members of Parliament and other officials from both
countries began expressing concern over the Bangladeshi government’s action in
the Choudhury case.
On that same day, this writer received a call from internationally acclaimed
human rights lawyer and former Canadia Attorney
General, Professor Irwin Cotler. His Chief of Staff
said that Cotler had become extremely concerned about
Choudhury’s mistreatment and wanted to help with his defense. In the past, Cotler has defended such individuals as South African
President Nelson Mandela, former Soviet dissident and now Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky, Egyptian
democracy advocate Saad Ibrahim,
Thursday, November 16, Bangladesh:
A few weeks ago, the police protection provided Choudhury since his newspaper
was bombed and he was threatened suddenly evaporated. On Thursday, it just as
suddenly re-appeared at his home. On that same day, Choudhury’s attorney S. N. Goswami, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Minority
Lawyers Association, appeared before the Bangladeshi High Court to plead his
Motion for Quashment, which challenges the legality
of the case against his client. Previously, under the auspices of an openly
hostile judge, the High Court had indicated that it would not view positively
any motion brought on Choudhury’s behalf because of his unpopular positions.
But Goswami found a different judge presiding who did
entertain the motion and even indicated that the court would require the judge
in the case to produce certain pieces of alleged evidence (which in reality do
Thursday, November 16, France,
Europe: The European Parliament passed three resolutions expressing concern
about human rights in Ethiopia,
Iran, and Bangladesh.
Point seven of the resolution on Bangladesh "Calls for…the
acquittal, of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the charging of whom runs counter
to all the standards of international law and the conventions against
violations of press freedom."
In keeping with the methodology employed by most advocates of tyranny, those
had hoped to persecute Choudhury in the dark; and for a time, it appeared they
might succeed. But after continuous efforts, the matter has now become an
international cause celebre. Similarly,
Islamists had been building and buying infrastructure in Bangladesh for
decades in pursuit of a Taliban state there. They had even wormed their way
into the governing coalition and established themselves among the police. In
2003, Choudhury made that effort public, incurring the eternal wrath of
Islamists who wished to keep it from the world until it was a fait accompli.
More recently, according to several reports, foreign Islamists have begun
moving into place readying for a takeover.
Dr. Richard L. Benkin: Correspondent, Asian Tribune and also
Special Advisor to The Intelligence Summit on Bangladeshi Affairs.
- Asian Tribune -