When Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury returned to Bangladesh from a triumphant tour of the United States and Monaco last November, certain members of the government had a nasty surprise waiting for him. Their actions were so bizarre that they left Shoaib’s supporters in
Bangladesh and internationally with one burning question. Was it a surprise to the Chief Advisor and military leaders as well?
First some essential background. Shoaib was arrested by the former BNP-Jamaat government, held for seventeen months, and tortured in a vain attempt to force a false confession out of him. The pro-Al Qaeda government forces that did this expected that they could proceed with impunity and that no one would notice. That is the way tyrants have been operating for centuries. Evil works its black magic best under the shadow of a rock. Like the legendary vampires, they wither and die in the light of day. But as seemed characteristic of that government, they misjudged everything.
It has been well over four years since Shoaib’s arrest and, if anything, support for him is growing. The United States Congress, which often has tried to work with Bangladeshi officials to find a way out of this mess, has seen support for Shoaib strengthen on both sides of the political divide. Shoaib’s supporters can be numbered equally among Democrats and Republicans. Right now, the government’s continued persecution of Shoaib—which it has admitted has no basis in law but is maintained only to appease the Islamists—is causing several of those in Congress to hold up Bangladeshi appropriations. On the Senate side, it is a major reason why trade legislation is not getting out of committee. Last March, by a margin of 409-1, Congress passed a resolution urging the case be dropped. The European Parliament also passed a pro-Shoaib resolution, as did the Australian Senate. When in November the presiding judge and public prosecutor tried to revoke Shoaib’s bail contrary to
Bangladesh’s own law, the embassies of the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom mobilized to send observers to the courtroom in Shoaib’s support.
So why are the same tag team of a judge and prosecutor once again attempting to increase the government’s harassment of Shoaib? At Shoaib’s court appearance in January—the 36
th in the 33 months since his release, no doubt some sort of dubious record for Bangladeshi jurisprudence—the two said they would start Shoaib’s trial at the next court date on February 17. What do they hope to accomplish? It cannot be a statement of Bangladeshi sovereignty because their actions are contrary to
Bangladesh’s own laws. Shoaib’s case is pending before the Supreme Court, which prohibits their attempt to start the trial. It cannot be that they have a preponderance of evidence they are in a hurry to present because they have had over four years to do so and have yet to present even a scintilla of credible evidence. The answer lies elsewhere.
Already this false prosecution—undertaken to satisfy a few interested parties—has cost the Bangladeshi people millions of dollars. One would hope that the government would prefer to expend its resources and its officials’ time solving the avalanche of social and economic problems its people face. Perhaps the legal machinery occupied by this case could have been used more productively to help solve the problem of terrorists that are becoming all too indicative of
Bangladesh to the rest of the world. Moreover, the BNP was told point blank that if they stopped this travesty of justice, they would be able to secure a Free Trade Agreement, which would mean millions in jobs and foreign currency. Now it appears that these same decision-makers will forge ahead despite the current hold up of
US aid, as well as a growing movement in the US to replace Bangladeshi goods with garments from other countries. So certainly the Bangladeshi people are not the beneficiaries of these actions.
In fact, the opposite is the case. Shoaib’s persecution is hurting the common people of Bangladesh, making their lives more and more difficult and promising more of the same. But we do know that some parties actually do benefit from the people’s misery. In
Gaza, it was Hamas; in Lebanon, it was Hezbollah; and in Iran, it was the Islamic revolution. We are now watching how Islamists grow ever stronger in direct proportion to the misery of the Pakistani people. The persecution of Shoaib Choudhury was conceived of and carried out by those same forces in
Bangladesh. During the last coalition government, it was the Jamaat and their allies; in general, it is the entire network of parties who wish to replace the current government and polity of
Bangladesh with a radical Islamist one. That is who is pushing this case forward, deliberately alienating donor nations and more importantly actual and potential trading partners.
There is one other possibility that goes back to our question about the current government’s knowledge of these activities. While it would not see the same benefits from the people’s misery as would the Islamists, the government does not suffer from increasing chaos and desperation. Increasing disorder—and especially a judiciary that appears out of control and not in line with international standards of justice—would justify continued or perhaps increased military rule. It certainly would require that elections be postponed yet more.
Whether or not the government is involved in these actions is speculation at this point; but what is not speculation is the fact that it is aware of what could happen to
Bangladesh if it does not end this insanity; and that it will be judged domestically and internationally by how it responds to that reality.