Dr. Richard Benkin Bio
Shoaib Choudhury’s Fate Cloudy Entering 2008By Dr. Richard Benkin Saturday, January 5, 2008
Supporters of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury closed out 2007 not knowing if the coming year will be “The Good, The Bad, [or] The Ugly.” We do know, however, that whatever course his tormentors choose for this anti-jihadi Muslim, they first and foremost will be testing our resolve.
For our enemies believe that we take up issues only for as long as they entertain us. More than one of them has said to me, “We can wait [you] out on this.”
They can cite plenty examples, too, when they tell it to masses worldwide of it. They point to an Islamicized Europe, where mosques teem and churches go empty; where the Islamist position on almost every critical issue is either adopted or tolerated. They note the fact that only sixty years after Israel’s birth, they have cowed many quarters into calling its very legitimacy into question. And they say that despite all of our bluster, Iran’s nuclear program is a fait accompli, as Western nations seize upon every pretext to avoid dealing with it. Meanwhile, its president is honored by a major university as he persecutes minorities at home and calls for an anti-Israeli genocide abroad. The same lack of courage, they note, allows the West to tolerate Islamists’ systematic destruction of ancient Christian communities in the Middle East and Hindu communities in South Asia.
This is why the case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has taken on an importance to both sides beyond the fate of one man. In 2003, he broke several taboos by exposing the rise of Islamist radicals, calling for full Israel-Bangladesh relations, and advocating interfaith dialogue based on religious equality and mutual respect. Islamists were determined to show that such things cannot be done without severe consequences. So they engineered his arrest as he was about to board a plane to visit Israel. They held him under deplorable conditions; even tortured him in an effort to extract a false confession that he was a spy for Israel (and I his Mossad contact). His family was harassed and his brother twice had to flee the capital for a safe house. When Islamists beat him, the police refused to take action, saying it was all the Choudhurys’ fault for their “alliance with the Jews.” But Shoaib did not crack; nor did he give them the false confession they wanted. His family did not try and dissuade him because of the pressure they faced, but continued to stand by him and support him. Plus, they expected to do these things without anyone caring. To their surprise, however, people did care. Neither have we shown any sign of letting up in our struggle, to the utter chagrin of the Bangladeshi government. When I walked into the Bangladeshi embassy in 2004 and demanded Shoaib’s release, it was more than symbolic that I did so alone. Now, we are an international movement with support from governments that hold Bangladesh’s economic fate in their hands.
In November, however, Shoaib returned home to increased harassment after triumphal trips to the United States and Monaco where HRH Prince Albert presented him with the first Monaco Media Forum Award, as decided by a panel headed by Elie Wiesel. A few days later Shoaib was in the court for the 36th time in the 31 months since his release. These appearances had taken on an enervating sameness: Shoaib is summoned to arrive in the court early, forced to wait for hours, and told to return in three to five weeks after a perfunctory hearing. But this one was different. Judge Azizul Huq berated him because his appeal before the Supreme Court was taking so long. The judge did this knowing that under Bangladeshi law Shoaib has no control over the Court’s pace. He then asked the Public Prosecutor what they should do. On cue, as rehearsed, he suggested the judge revoke Shoaib’s bail, which he did. It was soon re-instated after Shoaib’s attorney S N Goswami, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Minority Lawyers Association, produced a letter from the Supreme Court confirming the case’s status; but the government’s ploy worked because bail was re-instateded only until the next court appearance, three weeks hence. This is precisely what I protested when Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) and I had the often difficult meeting with the Bangladeshis that resulted in Shoaib’s freedom. I objected then to freeing him without dropping the charges (which they admitted are baseless); and they agreed to do so only on Kirk’s and my continued insistence.
But the capital charges remain and we had to stop further courtroom debacles. I began mobilizing various friends in the governments of the United States, Canada, the European Union, and Australia. I also called the US Embassy in Dhaka and recalled that it previously sent observers to Shoaib’s hearings. I was convinced that it would take a strong showing of international observers to prevent a further miscarriage of justice in Bangladesh. And it worked. The US and EU were present, and representatives of other governments, including Canada, made their displeasure known to the Bangladeshis. Bail revocation did not arise, although it is now valid only from court appearance to court appearance. But I have received assurances that the US and others will sent courtroom observers for as long as it takes.
Shoaib also was “visited” by a representative of one of the government’s most powerful advisors, who is an Islamist supporter as well. He informed Shoaib that the government was reviewing his press credentials for possible revocation for his ongoing revelations of government corruption and radical appeasement. He did not even try to be oblique about it, since most of the press has been muzzled. While revocation would be damaging, it no doubt would draw protests from the Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN, and other writers organizations that have supported Shoaib in the past.
Previously, the current government appeared promising. Physical attacks stopped, and Shoaib is permitted to travel outside the country. We have since been told that the government let him travel only in the hope of Shoaib leaving Bangladesh for good—something he refuses to do, having said. “Bangladesh is my country. Let the radicals leave.”
Everyone can help in at least two ways. One is to inform larger retailers that we are not purchasing Bangladeshi goods (or those who import them) as long as the charges against Shoaib remain. The other is to lobby our representatives to cut off our nations’ aid to Bangladesh (something we are working on in the US Congress right now. People can also contact me at our web site, HYPERLINK “http://www.InterfaithStrength.com” http://www.InterfaithStrength.com, or by email at HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” .