By Dr. Richard L. Benkin
Dhaka, 19 May, (Asiantribune.com): In an after hours telephone call, Bangladesh Home Minister Lutfuzzamen informed Bangladesh journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury that the government will frame the sedition charge against him at his May 23 trial. Framing the charge is the first step in proceeding to try Choudhury for sedition, a capital offense.
Previously, the government has equivocated about its intentions regarding Choudhury, at times assuring US lawmakers and others that they would arrange for the charges to be dropped. Babarâ€™s call was the first time they admitted their intention to proceed with the sedition trial.
On several occasions, Babar, Bangladesh Ambassador to Washington Shamsher M. Chowdhury, and other Bangladesh officials have admitted that there is no basis for the charges against Choudhury. In a 2005 meeting, Chowdhury told US Congressman Mark Kirk that the entire matter was â€œa purely personal financial dispute.â€ In that same meeting, Kirk and this reporter challenged Chowdhury to explain why the government continued to hold the journalist and charge him with a capital offense for â€œa purely personal financial dispute.â€ The ambassador agreed that the detention was unjust and promised to see that Choudhury was freed on bail; which he was on April 30, 2005, after 17 months in a Dhaka jail.
During his detention, Choudhury was tortured, denied medical care, and intentionally housed in a wing for the criminally insane. His 2003 arrest came after he wrote articles warning his fellow citizens about the growing strength of Islamic radicals in Bangladesh, urging his country to recognize Israel, and advocating interfaith dialogue and religious equality; and after he attempted to visit Israel. The Bangladesh population is 84 percent Muslim, and Islam is the official state religion.
Chowdhury also promised Kirk that bail would be but the first step. The government also would see that the charges were dropped as there was no evidence to support them; would return Choudhuryâ€™s passport so he could travel; and see that Choudhuryâ€™s seized possessions were returned to him. He also announced in that meeting that the Bangladesh government had dropped its ban on travel to Israel. Until Choudhuryâ€™s passport was returned to him on April 30â€”it had expired while in government handsâ€”none of those things had been done.
As recently as May 3, in an interview in his Washington office, this reporter asked Chowdhury what he understood will occur at the journalistâ€™s May 23 trial. â€œOh, the charges will be quashed,â€ he said. â€œThere is no doubt about that.â€ Chowdhuryâ€™s response was not out of keeping with previous Bangladesh court opinions that held the charges to be â€œnot supportable,â€ and with the governmentâ€™s inability to produce any evidence against Choudhury though it claimed an intensive investigation. In fact, a formal court submission by government investigators in 2005 stated that they â€œfound nothing badâ€ about Choudhury.
Babar, too, according to Choudhury said during the phone call that â€œeven though the charge will be framed, the case will be dropped by the court, ultimately.â€ But Bangladesh jurisprudence in this case has given Choudhury or his supporters confidence that justice will be obtained. Choudhuryâ€™s imprisonment continued in 2004 though contrary to Bangladesh law, and despite several court opinions that there was no substance to the charges against him. Choudhury further reminded Babar that the judge hearing the case was in the Islamist political camp, which has demonized Choudhury for his legal journalistic activities. Babar noted (not for the first time) that Choudhury should hire â€œheavyweight lawyers.â€ Choudhuryâ€™s current attorney, S N Goswami, is quite renowned in Bangladesh and Secretary General of the Bangladesh Minority Lawyers Association. He is also Bahai. Was Babar suggesting that the Islamist judge would be responsive only to a Muslim attorney?
Next week, Babar will travel to the United States to tout Bangladeshâ€™s human rights record and its support for the international war on terror. He said that Chowdhury assured him that US lawmakers, including Kirk, will not raise the Choudhury case or ask the government to explain its duplicity. Chowdhury assured him that according to the governmentâ€™s lobbyists, the only people concerned about the matter are this reporter and one congressional aid.
- Asian Tribune -