The great Bangladeshi humanitarian economist, Muhammad Yunus, has been named as this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He does tremendous work as the genius behind the Grameen Bank “microcredit” operation for lifting millions around the world from poverty. I hate to seem to gainsay this in any way, but it would have been momentous if his countryman, journalist Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhury, facing a death sentence for treason for working for peace with Israel, had been named instead. (Perhaps Yunus should have been awarded the Nobel in economics.) The following is Ami Isseroff’s latest report on Choudhury’s situation. See the bottom of the page at MidEastWeb site for suggestions on how to help Mr. Choudhury. – R. Seliger
Those who have been with MidEastWeb for a while know the case of Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhury only too well. Salah is the Bangladesh journalist who was one of the first to warn about the rise of Islamist radicalism in Bangladesh, explaining how it was carefully incubated in Madrassahs and encouraged by corrupt authorities. The world was surprised when bombs began going off all over Dhakka some time later, but Salah was not surprised at all.
Speaking out against radical Islamism and advocating dialogue and diplomatic relations with Israel are apparently “crimes” punishable by death in Bangladesh. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is on trial for sedition, a capital offence, because of those stands. His trial begins October 12. Believe it or not, the story is even worse than that.
When the US pressed Bangladesh to recognize Israel, Salah supported the move through his newspapers. He established contact with an Israeli dialogue group, IFLAC, and attempted to come to Israel to talk about encouraging dialogue through the media. He was arrested at the airport in November, 2003 as he was about to board a flight for Israel. He began living a Kafkaeseque nightmare that has continued for three years. Salah wrote several letters from jail describing the conditions and his failing health. He was charged with sedition, and with a passport offence for attempted travel to Israel. The Arab world press generated outrageous rumors insisting that Salah was an agent of the Israeli Mossad intelligence organization. Pressure from US officials and the House of Representatives ultimately obtained his release on bail after he had served much longer jail time than the passport offence penalty would have required.
Salah was convinced that the sedition charges would be dropped, but that was not to be. The case has dragged on and on as the government sought to fabricate a case for sedition. The office of his newspaper was recently bombed and Salah was badly beaten by a mob. It seems that getting beaten up and having your office trashed is also against the law in Bangladesh. Salah now faces an addition “trial” for that “offence.” This is how it happened, as Salah relates:
I was assaulted by a mob led by BNP’s Cultural Wing leader Helal Khan and Babul Ahmed on 5th of October. Weekly Blitz Managing Editor M. A. Ahsan was also seriously injured, which resulted in suspension of the publication of Weekly Blitz for this week.
… Mr. Ahsan and I immediately rushed to the Shahbagh Police Station and met the officer-in-charge, Rezaul Karim, to lodge a complaint against the attackers and ask that they send police forces to our office to guard our properties. However, the police officer, (who reportedly received TK. 200,000 as a bribe from the attackers) reluctantly asked us to go back to homes, take a shower and meet him after several hours…
The attackers took unlawful possession of our office and looted a number of computers, printers and other valuables from the office. Earlier, when they attacked me, Babul Ahmed shouted, “He is an agent of Jews, kill him”. They snatched my mobile phone, took TK. 42,000 cash from my pocket and forcibly took away the key of the vault of the office and looted TK 350,000 cash. It may be mentioned here that police protection was mysteriously withdrawn from our office four days before the attack. Meanwhile, more surprisingly, the government has also withdrawn police protection from my residebce, which has definitely put my entire family in to a tremendous horror.
Now, supposedly being given legal protection by the police, we lodged a formal case with the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate on Sunday, 8th of October. The Metropolitan magistrate Mizanur Rahman sent the case to criminal Investigation Department (CID) for investigation and necessary actions. But, the influential people (the attackers) belonging to the ruling party are now trying to press CID to send the matter to cold storage.
Hearing that we lodged the complaint, the attackers, under the direct patronage of the officer-in-charge of Shahbagh Police Station, lodged a false complaint with the police station in the evening of 8th October, where Rezaul Karim (the OC) instructed his fellow officers to issue warrant of arrest against us. On the following day (9th of October) another false complaint was filed by the attackers with the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate, which the court sent to Shahbagh Police Station for investigation and action.
The court also accepted the petition of the attackers and instructed the police to raid my office and residence. This incident forced me to go into hiding on the dark hours of 9th October, as I was told by some journalists that the officer in charge was ready to arrest me, assault me in custody and kill me. The officer in charge is continuously conspiring to do everything to ‘give me a proper lesson’. The attackers also held a press conference in Dhaka on 10th of October, where attacker Babul Ahmed said, “Shoaib is an agent of Israel and Jews”.
I appeared before the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate Mr. Shafiq Anwar on the 11th of October 2006 through my lawyer Advocate Samarendra Nath Goswami for bail. The magistrate in the bail order wrote, “the counsel appearing for the state (that is a police officer) strongly opposed the bail petition. But, the allegation is confusing. So, the bail is granted”….They want to harrass us and want to see the complete death of Weekly Blitz, which is the most outspoken newspaper in Bangladesh.
If we do not find a way to help him, Salah may be convicted of treason and executed, or killed by the mob. In the best case, his life and health would be ruined by a long jail sentence and a slanderous and violent campaign.
Please write or phone elected representatives, Bangladesh government officials and human rights groups. Frankly, letters from Israel to Bangladesh authorities may harm his case.
Letters to Bangladesh authorities should be polite and not abusive and should emphasize the harm that this case is doing to the good image of Bangladesh in your country and the need to pursue justice.
Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.
The free market place of ideas and tolerance for different opinions, ideas and beliefs are the foundation of a civil and peaceful society.
You and the majority of Bangladeshis may disagree with Mr. Choudhury’s statements. Physically assaulting him and threatdening Mr. Choudhury with prison and death for his expressed opinions is throwing society back into the Dark Ages, when dissenters were accused of witchcraft and hung for so-called crimes.
If Bangladesh intends to be part of progressive mankind, it should drop all accusations against Mr. Chuhury and limit its disagree-ments to words, not violence.
Abe L., Houston, Texas