Bangladesh Courtroom Debacle
Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA
Last week, this paper editorialized that events in a Dhaka courtroom that week would have a critical impact on the direction of US-Bangladesh relations. As those events unfolded, it appeared that the current set of rulers in Dhaka is no more competent than their predecessors. Contrary to their months-long assurances, the court did not dismiss the admittedly false case against Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.
This paper has reviewed the case numerous times and will only highlight it here. In sum, Shoaib was arrested as he was about to board a plane that would take him to Israel and a non-political conference. The
government at first did not charge him with anything but deliberately
leaked to the press that he was a spy for Israel—part of a
disinformation campaign that the Bangladeshi press lapped up and
dutifully reported as “informed.” That
played right into the government’s hands as it enabled it to show its
radical membes that it was hoeing the Islamist line, and it seemed to
offer “proof” that they saved the nation from some sort of threat.
all tyrants and bigots, BNP-Jamaat and its Islamist henchmen believed
they could carry out this assault on freedom quietly; and they had no
reason to doubt that they could. The
world—and most of Bangladeshi society—had been relatively silent while
journalists were assaulted and arrested, political dissidents murdered,
and a decades-long program of ethnic cleansing carried out on religious
minorities. But the world surprised them on
this and came to see the attack for what it was: not only an attack on
one man, not only another attack on press freedom in Bangladesh; but it was also part of the Islamist war against civilization. Unlike
the six other journalists whose sedition charges the government
recently dropped, Shoaib is charged with treason and blasphemy as well. His outspoken advocacy of religious equality, of open interfaith dialogue, and of full relations with Israel angered the radical Islamists. Worse still, even after he was jailed and tortured, threatened and his family harassed, he did not give up his quest. They
realize that if he is successful without fleeing the Islamic world, it
will be a very powerful message to the millions upon millions of
Muslims who, like him, are tired of seeing their faith hi-jacked by
terrorists. Some of them are
fundamentalists, believers; some are secularists; some are Sunnis,
others Sufis, still others Amahdiyya and Rohingya.
when it came time last week for the government to make good on their
promises to drop Shoaib’s case, they as did their predecessors
disappointed. Instead of being dropped, the case was continued to July 18th; instead of admitting the lack of evidence, the prosecutor said he was determined to prosecute the case. On the plus side, they appeased their Islamist friends, but the negatives were far greater. In the first place, the apparent emptiness of this government’s assurances seem to rival that of its predecessors. That
lack of credibility makes it difficult to believe the government when
it says that it is anti-radical or taking real steps to fight
corruption. Beyond that, the government’s
seeming disregard for basic standards of respect and international
diplomacy makes it very difficult for its friends to convince diplomats
and lawmakers that the accusations of mass arrests and other human
rights violations are highly exaggerated.
last Thursday’s court action, anyone wishing to invest in a Bangladeshi
exporter might want to think twice before doing it. Movement toward a Free Trade Agreement with the United States has been stymied for years and is on no one’s agenda in Washington. Senate
Bill 652—the consolation prize that would award Bangladesh and other
less developed nations some tariff relief has been similarly stalled
with no date for any movement. In a new
development, the government through its action threatens to galvanize a
force that not only will stop Bangladeshi economic inroads in the US, but actually decrease those currently in place. I personally do not like to use the word boycott, nor have I consented to participate in one. But since last week, I have been flooded with requests—more demands—for a boycott of Bangladeshi textiles in the United States.
“You see,” one of them told me, “Americans don’t like the idea of supporting countries that support terrorists.”
Committees are being formed now to identify the top importers of Bangladeshi goods; and not only in the United States. With exporters from economic giants India and China as well as many from nearby Latin America ready to fill any orders, the impact of any drop in textile imports from Bangladesh could be permanent.
Why the government is risking all of this misery for the people seems to make no sense. If someone has decided that it is a matter of national pride or sovereignty, they are sadly mistaken. As
internationally-renown human rights attorney Professor Irwin Cotler, MP
has pointed out, the prosecution violates at least eight tenets of
Bangladeshi law. The prosecution is being
undertaken not to support national sovereignty but to support
international Islamists whose loyalty is to an internationalist
ideology that cares nothing for traditional Bengali values.Bangladesh’s
friends are waiting for the government to come to its senses and stop
dissipating the future of the nation’s children—all for a prosecution
which it admits is a false one.