Courageous Bangladesh journalist deserves Canadian
Choudhury faces trial for the sin of promoting inter-faith dialogue
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is not a household name. But he should be - and his case is becoming - a cause celebre. For this courageous
His crime? Promoting inter-faith dialogue among Muslims, Jews and Christians, seeking peaceful relations with
These views - published in the Bangladesh Weekly Blitz, which he edits - resulted in Choudhury first being arrested on Nov. 29, 2003 at the Bangladesh National Airport as he was about to board a plane to attend a conference in Israel on the media's role in education for peace.
Choudhury, who refused to confess to the false charge, for which no evidence was ever adduced, was charged two months later with "sedition," and was subsequently held for 16 months in solitary confinement in a
Choudhury was released on bail on
From July 2006 on, as Choudhury told me, he became the target of continuous threats, intimidation and violence. For example, on July 6, his newspaper offices were bombed by an extremist Islamic organization after his newspaper published an article supportive of the Ahmadiyya Muslim minority. On Sept. 18, a judge with alleged ties to an extremist Islamic party ruled that Choudhury was to stand trial for sedition, despite the fact that the public prosecutor had testified two days earlier that the government did not have evidence to proceed with the charges and was prepared to have them dropped.
On Oct. 5, Choudhury was attacked at his newspaper offices by a large crowd, including prominent members of the ruling Bangladesh National Party, was called an "agent of the Jews," and badly beaten. When he reported the attack to the police, no action was taken; on the contrary, after he lodged a formal complaint, the police responded by issuing an arrest warrant for him.
It is not Choudhury who should be on trial; rather, it is the Bangladesh authorities who have violated his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Bangladesh constitution, international treaties as well as the basic principles of criminal justice, including:
a. the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty;
b. the right not to be arbitrarily arrested and detained;
c. the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the nature of the charge, and the right to a prompt appearance before a judge to challenge the lawfulness of arrest and detention;
d. the prohibition against torture and the right to humane conditions during detention;
e. the right to protection against coercive interrogation;
f. the right of access to legal counsel;
g. the right to equal access to, and equality before, the courts;
h. the right to a fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal;
i. the right to freedom of religion and conscience;
j. the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press;
k. the right to freedom of association and assembly; and
l. the right to freedom of movement, including the right to leave and re-enter the country.
Apart from these violations of Choudhury's fundamental rights - that are reasons enough to quash the charges even before the trial begins - the trumped-up charges themselves are devoid of any basis in fact or law. As well, there is a particular Canadian connection to the Choudhury case.
Rule of Law project, including, in particular, joint initiatives to promote the protection of fundamental rights as well as "due process" principles and the rule of law in the
Indeed, during my tenure as Canadian justice minister and attorney-general, I held two meetings with the
At the time of Choudhury's first arrest in 2003, a New York Times editorial characterized him as having "a rare virtue - he champions dialogue and decency in a culture hemmed in by extremism and corruption." The charges against Choudhury, said the New York Times editorial, are a "baseless sham." It went on to say, after describing the plight of journalists in
Three years later, Choudhury faces possible death from this "baseless sham." It is vital now to defend Choudhury's rights as we defend the courageous stand that brought about his ordeal.
Irwin Cotler is MP for
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