Tuesday, January 23, 2007

more on the trial of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Rabbi Sue E. Levy writes in an email,
My dear friend and brother Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who publishes the only pro-Israel newspaper in the Islamic world and who strives for interfaith understanding, has received a brief reprieve and, with it, new hope in his legal difficulties.

He appeared in court today, Monday 22, 2007, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, before a judge who has made it clear that he wishes to convict him of treason, sedition and blasphemy. A representative of the European Union attended, as did a representative of the British High Commissioner. The U.S. Embassy was represented, and other countries have sent statements regarding their support for Choudhury.

It was a major surprise to find that none of the prosecution witnesses who had been called actually appeared. The government prosecutor has said that he sees no reason to try Choudhury, as he is convinced that he has nothing with which to convict him. The prosecutor must surely understand that he is being used in the political interests of Islamist radical judge Mohammed Momin Ullah who wishes for the case to continue. The trial has now been delayed until February 28th, and Mr. Choudhury is extremely grateful for this brief reprieve.

This is taking place against a background of governmental and social instability in Bangladesh. A new interim "caretaker" government has taken control of the country after many weeks of violent demonstrations, strikes and unrest fomented by the Awami League, a coalition of parties which has most recently been in the minority in the Bangladeshi Parliament. These groups represent the radical Islamist faction whose goal it is to see a Taliban-like government take control of the country with the Islamic Shari'ah (religious law) as the law of the land. The interim government is working to meet one of their demands by correcting some large discrepancies in the lists of registered voters. It seems apparent that these radicals will win many more seats in the parliament than they have had before when elections are held in the late spring. It is, indeed, possible that they will win a majority. Al Queda is making incursions into the country, and an international group of journalists has made a statement that Bangladesh is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists who are often imprisoned and sometimes executed.

And, against this background, Shoaib Choudhury continues to publish the truth. He has even taken recently to publishing articles I have written about Judaism in the interest of interfaith understanding. His courage deserves to be richly rewarded.

If you are reading this in the United States, please ask everyone you know to call his or her representative, asking them to support House Resolution #64 which asks that the case against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury be dropped. Please ask your senators to make public statements in support of Mr. Choudhury and to contact the State Department on his behalf. The full text of the resolution is pasted below for those of you who may be interested. Please note that this is a bipartisan resolution. Rep. Kirk is a Republican, and Rep. Lowey is a Democrat.

One must still feel outrage at the fact that this trial will continue. Every charge against Shoaib Choudhury is entirely fabricated and has not one shred of truth to justify it. Choudhury is still in danger. If this trial is concluded, it is more than likely that the judge will find him guilty, and the penalties may be either thirty years in prison or death.

The one thing remaining which Mr. Choudhury needs very urgently, is for people to advertise in The Weekly Blitz. Shoaib Choudhury is almost entirely without a source of income, and some of you may be in a position to alleviate this problem.
And the resolution,

1ST SESSION H. RES. 64
Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government
of Bangladesh should immediately drop all pending charges against
Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Mr. KIRK (for himself and Mrs. LOWEY) submitted the following resolution;
which was referred to the Committee on 11th January 2007.

RESOLUTION

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Bangladesh should immediately drop all pending charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

Whereas Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a Bangladeshi journalist who, because of his beliefs in an interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims and criticism of Islamic extremism, is on trial for sedition, an offense punishable by death;

Whereas on November 29, 2003, Mr. Choudhury was arrested at Zia International Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on his way to board a flight bound for Tel Aviv.

Mr. Choudhury's passport was seized, along with considerable sums of money and several personal items; on that same day police raided Mr. Choudhury's home and newspaper offices, seizing files, computers, and other valuables.

Whereas Mr. Choudhury was detained in Dhaka Central Jail for a passport violation, then subsequently charged with sedition. Mr. Choudhury suffered harsh interrogation techniques and received no treatment for a debilitating case of glaucoma. Mr. Choudhury's incarceration lasted 17 months without legal recourse.

Whereas on April 30, 2005, after intervention by the United States Department of State and congressional offices, Mr. Choudhury was released on bail.

Whereas in the subsequent months, senior members of the Bangladeshi Government made continuous public promises that there was no substance to Mr. Choudhury's pending charges and that all charges would be dropped;

Whereas on September 29, 2005, Mr. Choudhury was awarded the "Freedom to Write Award" by PEN USA;

Whereas on May 5, 2006, Mr. Choudhury was awarded the American Jewish Committee's Moral Courage Award in absentia in Washington, D.C.; two days prior to Mr. Choudhury receiving the award, after returning Mr. Choudhury's passport and appearing to allow him to attend, senior Bangladeshi Government officials issued threats to prevent him from leaving the country;

Whereas on July 6, 2006, Mr. Choudhury's newspaper offices were bombed by an Islamic extremist organization after Mr. Choudhury and his staff published articles in support of the Ahmadiyya Muslim minority; Mr. Choudhury received a tip about the bombing days before and reported it to police, who refused to take action;

Whereas on September 18, 2006, a judge with alleged ties to an Islamic extremist party ruled that Mr. Choudhury will stand trial for sedition; the judge made this ruling despite the Public Prosecutor’s testimony in court days before that the government did not have evidence and would not object to the charges being dropped;

Whereas on October 5, 2006, Mr. Choudhury was attacked at his newspaper offices by a large group of individuals, including prominent members of the ruling Bangladesh National Party; police protection for Mr. Choudhury was withdrawn just days before the attack; Mr. Choudhury was called an "agent of the Jews" and beaten badly; when Mr. Choudhury reported the attack to the police, no action was taken;

Whereas members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom visited with Mr. Choudhury on their trip to Bangladesh in February and March 2006;

Whereas on October 6, 2006, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote a letter to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A. Boucher calling on the United States Government to strengthen the "voices of moderation" in countries like Bangladesh where the rule of law, democratic institutions, and respect for human rights are under assault by violent extremists; the Commission identified Mr. Choudhury as one of those voices that should not be silenced;

Whereas, according to the Department of State's 2005 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Bangladesh, Attacks on journalists and newspapers, and government efforts to intimidate them, political party activists, and others, occurred frequently; and

Whereas moderate voices in the Muslim world must be supported and protected to advance the security of the United States and its allies: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that

(1) the Government of Bangladesh should immediately drop all pending charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury;

(2) the Government of Bangladesh should immediately return all of Mr. Choudhury’s confiscated possessions; and

(3) the Government of Bangladesh should cease harassment and intimidation of Mr. Choudhury, take steps to protect Mr. Choudhury, and hold accountable those responsible for attacks against Mr. Choudhury.

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