The United States has denounced the Bangladeshi
government's decision to try a moderate Muslim editor for
advocating ties with Israel, saying he is "clearly a victim"
of "Bangladesh's dysfunctional legal and judicial systems."
As The Jerusalem Post first reported last month,
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the Weekly
Blitz newspaper, an English-language publication based in
the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, faces multiple counts of
espionage and sedition in connection with his articles
critical of Islamic extremism and favorable to Israel. If
convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
Choudhury was arraigned in a Dhaka court on October 12, and
prosecutors will begin calling witnesses against him when the
hearings reconvene on November 13. Although Choudhury's lawyer
will be permitted to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses,
he will not be able to call any of his own to testify in
"Like thousands of Bangladeshis every year, Mr. Choudhury
is clearly a victim of Bangladesh's dysfunctional legal and
judicial systems," Gregg Sullivan, a spokesman for the State
Department, told the Post. "He was held without bail
for 15 months and the sedition case against him appears to
lack a strong legal basis."
Sullivan said the US Embassy in Dhaka had sent an observer
to attend Choudhury's trial. "We intend to continue following
the case of Mr. Choudhury, and have made that clear to
Bangladeshi authorities," he added.
Sullivan said Choudhury is "the only Bangladeshi journalist
who has been formally charged with sedition in recent years,"
even though other Bangladeshis have voiced similar sentiments
regarding the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in their country.
As the Post reported exclusively on Wednesday,
Choudhury was recently attacked and beaten in his office by a
crowd of some 40 people that included senior members of
Bangladesh's ruling party.
On October 5, a mob stormed the premises of Choudhury's
newspaper and beat him, fracturing his ankle. They also looted
cash that was kept in the company safe. No arrests were made,
and Bangladeshi police refused to allow Choudhury to file
charges against his attackers.
Asked to comment on the incident, Sullivan said there
indications that it was related to a "property
dispute" rather than the sedition charges pending against
"We have made clear to Bangladeshi officials our interests
in Mr. Choudhury's case and have urged the Bangladeshi
government to ensure that individuals like Mr. Choudhury are
granted full rights and due process in accordance with
Bangladeshi law," he said.
Choudhury's troubles date back to November 2003, when he
was arrested at Dhaka's international airport as he was
preparing to board a flight to travel to Israel, where he was
due to deliver a speech on promoting mutual understanding
between Muslims and Jews. His visit to Israel would have been
the first by a Bangladeshi journalist. Bangladesh does not
recognize Israel's existence.
After being held in prison for 17 months, where he was
reportedly tortured, Choudhury was released in April 2005.
But authorities in Bangladesh, which is ruled by a
coalition government that includes Islamic extremists, decided
to pursue charges against him.
Spearheaded by American human-rights activist Dr. Richard
Benkin, a number of international organizations have called
for Choudhury's release.