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HEADLINES

Exclusive interview of Dr. Irwin Cotler

“This type of proceeding really has an adverse impact on the overall relationship between Canada and Bangladesh– Cotler

International Counsel of Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, Professor Irwin Cotler, MP., gave an interview to Canada Radio recently. Here is the excerpts:
ROB BREAKENRIDGE (Host): Right now we've got one, I guess at some level here, update a story we brought you recently. Situation facing a journalist in
Bangladesh
, a journalist who was potentially facing the death penalty was - I forget when exactly we spoke with Shoaib Choudhury, and also a human rights' activist in the U.S. Richard Benkin, who has been working closely with him. We had a few minutes on the line with Mr. Choudhury before his line was cut, as apparently happens quite often when he's on the phone discussing his case.
Mr Choudhury is facing charges of sedition, treason, and blasphemy that could face the death penalty. Now this all stem - now these really seem to be trumped-up charges and the reason he's come in the crosshairs of the government is his work, his writing, his calls for normalized relations between
Bangladesh and Israel
, his criticism, his vocal criticism of the growing influence in Bangladesh of Islamic extremists. He has faced death threats. His newspaper has been attacked. And now the state intends to put him on trial.
Well this case is getting attention from others around the world, including right here in
Canada. A very well known human rights lawyer, a very well-known Member of Parliament, a former Cabinet Minister in fact, has joined the defense team. Joining us to talk about his involvement in the case we welcome to the program Irwin Cotler, who is a Liberal MP from Mount-Royal in Quebec
, former Justice Minister, and of course before entering politics was a human rights lawyer, still is. Mr. Cotler, welcome to the program.
IRWIN COTLER (Liberal MP, Mont-Royal): Thank you. Good to speak with you.
BREAKENRIDGE: Walk us through this then, I guess, how you first became aware of this case, and how and why you decided to get involved.
COTLER: Well actually, I had a long-time interest in
Bangladesh. One of my close colleagues and friends of the former Justice Minister and Foreign Minister in Bangladesh come out as saying we both served at the same time on the Board of Directors of Rights and Democracy. We used to talk about the issues of human rights in Bangladesh. Then when I became the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, as you mentioned, I actually met with the Minister of Justice from Bangladesh twice, both times in Ottawa on the occasion of his state visits, and we have - well I say the Canadian government has a Canada-Bangladesh joint rule-of-law project which is intended to protect human rights as best as it can be within the legal system and the legal process. That is what is meant by rule-of-law project. So for all of these considerations, I have this long-time interest if not involvement in Bangladesh. And, more recently, people were discussing this case of Mr. Choudhury in Bangladesh, I even have a fair number of constituents in my own riding in Mount-Royal who are from Bangladesh, and the case struck me for two reasons. One, as you described it, it appeared to be not only a case of trumped-up charges, but very similar in the manner of his treatment by the authorities to cases of other political prisoners who have represented over the years - namely someone who is himself involved as a human rights defender in this instance, a journalist who is speaking out and promoting both interface dialogue between Jews and Muslims, peaceful relations with Israel. Ironically enough, one of the things that he was seeking to do when he was arrested was to attend a peace education conference in Israel, which, unknown to me at the time, I was speaking in Israel
as one of the invited people on peace education. So I began to become, for all these reasons, interested in this case, and then read about the fact that he was going to perhaps be put on charge for the charges as you've now have mentioned.
My office got in touch with Richard Benkin, an American human rights activist as you mentioned who has been on your show I believe, and he put us in touch with Mr. Choudhury. My office discussed the case with Mr. Choudhury, and from there we went to discussing his legal particulars and I then received from him a power of attorney to act as his international legal counsel, and that's exactly brings us up to date.
I'm now working with his
Bangladesh lawyer, Mr. Goswami, on the preparation of his appeal. This is an appeal from a petition that he presented in court to quash the charges. That was denied. That's being appealed. And what's interesting, another - apart from the fact that the, you know, the appearance of trumped-up charges, the authorities with respect to his treatment in the criminal justice system in Bangladesh, of which I said I have a particular interest in, you know, denied a series of his rights as guaranteed under Bangladesh law. I'm not talking about Canadian law. I'm talking about the Bangladesh penal code; the Bangladesh constitution denied his right to protection against arbitrary arrest, to protection against illegal pre-trial detention. He had been detained incommunicado effectively for seventeen months until after pressure, or representations made but in the form of pressure in that regard and protest by the PEN by-committee to protect journalists by parliamentarians in other countries. He was released in April 2005 only to then be the target, as you put it, of intimidation and beatings and threats and another series of denials of rights then began to take place. So I've been able to identify some nine violations of his rights under Bangladesh
law, violations of such magnitude that the charges should now be quashed even before the trial begins on the seemingly trumped-up card charges nonetheless.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well as you say then there's a solid case for that to happen. And with the growing international attention and pressure regarding this case, is there maybe some optimism that that will be the outcome, that these charges will be dropped?
COTLER: Well I'll tell you, it's hard to say and previous cases where I've represented political prisoners I've seen sometimes, regrettably, you know people detained much longer than they should have been and then charged and imprisoned and after you know a kind of show-trial and then one has to keep after it, after the post-conviction situation. We are now in the just on the eve of the actual trial, and I would hope that the authorities would quash the charges because one, again ironically, one of the charges against him with respect to sedition is that he has been undermining the image of Bangladesh with his writings, but in fact it's the other way around. It's
Bangladesh that is having its image undermined by the nature of the false charges and the abusive prosecution. As I say, we in Canada have a particular interest in this because we have a joint rule-of-law project with Bangladesh in that regard. I've always had, you know, high regard for the evolving democracy in Bangladesh
, so I would hope that they would do the right thing, quash the charges, because they can appreciate that at this point there are other parliamentarians, and the European Union passed a resolution protesting against his charges against him. American Congressmen have been involved. NGOs as I've mentioned, have taken up the case, so it does not - it is not even in the, if I can use the term, the self-interest of Bangladesh you know to continue with this case, apart from the fact that the very injustice of it warrants to the quashing of the charges.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well and
Canada does, through a variety of channels, provides a lot of money in foreign aids to Bangladesh
, to help the people of that country. Now that's what it's meant to do. It would be unfortunate that we would use that as leverage, but maybe it's an avenue for us to do so. Do you think it's to the point where we should be looking at options such as that?
COTLER: Well I, as I say, I wouldn't like to see that the Bangladesh people would in any way you know suffer from any withdrawal of you know foreign aid on our part, but certainly I think that the Bangladesh government should be concerned when this type of proceeding has really has an adverse impact on the overall relationship between Canada and Bangladesh. If we have an investment in another context in a joint rule-of-law project, then it does not recommend the continuation of that particular project, if in fact the project is being undermined and abused and is no longer serving the purpose for which it was intended. I would not like to see that happen. I think we want to encourage it in concert and partnership with the Bangladeshi government the advancement of the rule-of-law, but we cannot, you know, begin to acquiesce in a process which under the cover of the rule-of-law ends up undermining the rule-of-law and putting the people on trial when in fact they should, if anything, be rewarded for being good citizens and speaking up in favor of interface, dialogue, and the like. So I would hope that those in authority in
Bangladesh
will see, as I say, for reasons of justice, for reasons of the Canada-Bangladesh relationship, particularly in the matter of the joint rule-of-law project, and for reason of their own self-image as a country that wants to be seen to be an evolving democracy that they would quash the charges.
BREAKENRIDGE: Of course being in Parliament now, as we all realize that the government and in particular the Foreign Affairs Minister are of another party, but can you be an avenue of communication with the Department of Foreign Affairs so that the government is up to speed on this, so if Canada needs to take a position as a country that we are well-informed and able to do so?
COTLER: Well you mentioned a good point. I think in matter of this kind this is not a matter of party partisanship. And as it happens I have spoken with a Member of Parliament from your area, Jason Kenney the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, and I briefed him on this case and he has himself looked into it and appreciates the nature of the case, and I am hoping that, you know, the government will make as well the appropriate representations in this regard. I did raise it in Parliament before Parliament rose, and spoke in Parliament about this case, and I'm seeking to engage now you know Parliamentarians from the various parties, because, as I say, this is not a party free (?) issue, it is something all Parliamentarians from whatever party and all people concerned with human rights should in fact take up this case and cause and make their views known to the Bangladesh authorities.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well Mr. Cotler, we'll leave it there. We'll continue to follow this case and perhaps touch base a little bit down the road. But in the meantime, thank you so much for your time here tonight.
COTLER: Well thank you for this. I think that the media itself, which cares so much about you know freedom of the press and the like would also have an interest in a fellow journalist, who not only is being imprisoned, but is being imprisoned because he sought to exercise freedom of the press.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well let's hope so. Irwin Cotler thanks again.
COTLER: Good speaking with you.
BREAKENRIDGE: Alright, former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, still Liberal MP for Mount-Royal, also of course his background as a human rights lawyer, still acting in that capacity now officially part of the legal team for journalist, Bangladesh journalist Shoaib Choudhury. So as we say, follow that case and hopefully others in the media, as Irwin says, do take note.

International Counsel of Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, Professor Irwin Cotler, MP., gave an interview to Canada Radio recently. Here is the excerpts:
ROB BREAKENRIDGE (Host): Right now we've got one, I guess at some level here, update a story we brought you recently. Situation facing a journalist in
Bangladesh, a journalist who was potentially facing the death penalty was - I forget when exactly we spoke with Shoaib Choudhury, and also a human rights' activist in the U.S. Richard Benkin, who has been working closely with him. We had a few minutes on the line with Mr. Choudhury before his line was cut, as apparently happens quite often when he's on the phone discussing his case.
Mr Choudhury is facing charges of sedition, treason, and blasphemy that could face the death penalty. Now this all stem - now these really seem to be trumped-up charges and the reason he's come in the crosshairs of the government is his work, his writing, his calls for normalized relations between
Bangladesh and Israel, his criticism, his vocal criticism of the growing influence in Bangladesh of Islamic extremists. He has faced death threats. His newspaper has been attacked. And now the state intends to put him on trial.
Well this case is getting attention from others around the world, including right here in
Canada. A very well known human rights lawyer, a very well-known Member of Parliament, a former Cabinet Minister in fact, has joined the defense team. Joining us to talk about his involvement in the case we welcome to the program Irwin Cotler, who is a Liberal MP from Mount-Royal in Quebec, former Justice Minister, and of course before entering politics was a human rights lawyer, still is. Mr. Cotler, welcome to the program.
IRWIN COTLER (Liberal MP, Mont-Royal): Thank you. Good to speak with you.
BREAKENRIDGE: Walk us through this then, I guess, how you first became aware of this case, and how and why you decided to get involved.
COTLER: Well actually, I had a long-time interest in
Bangladesh. One of my close colleagues and friends of the former Justice Minister and Foreign Minister in Bangladesh come out as saying we both served at the same time on the Board of Directors of Rights and Democracy. We used to talk about the issues of human rights in Bangladesh. Then when I became the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, as you mentioned, I actually met with the Minister of Justice from Bangladesh twice, both times in Ottawa on the occasion of his state visits, and we have - well I say the Canadian government has a Canada-Bangladesh joint rule-of-law project which is intended to protect human rights as best as it can be within the legal system and the legal process. That is what is meant by rule-of-law project. So for all of these considerations, I have this long-time interest if not involvement in Bangladesh. And, more recently, people were discussing this case of Mr. Choudhury in Bangladesh, I even have a fair number of constituents in my own riding in Mount-Royal who are from Bangladesh, and the case struck me for two reasons. One, as you described it, it appeared to be not only a case of trumped-up charges, but very similar in the manner of his treatment by the authorities to cases of other political prisoners who have represented over the years - namely someone who is himself involved as a human rights defender in this instance, a journalist who is speaking out and promoting both interface dialogue between Jews and Muslims, peaceful relations with Israel. Ironically enough, one of the things that he was seeking to do when he was arrested was to attend a peace education conference in Israel, which, unknown to me at the time, I was speaking in Israel as one of the invited people on peace education. So I began to become, for all these reasons, interested in this case, and then read about the fact that he was going to perhaps be put on charge for the charges as you've now have mentioned.
My office got in touch with Richard Benkin, an American human rights activist as you mentioned who has been on your show I believe, and he put us in touch with Mr. Choudhury. My office discussed the case with Mr. Choudhury, and from there we went to discussing his legal particulars and I then received from him a power of attorney to act as his international legal counsel, and that's exactly brings us up to date.
I'm now working with his
Bangladesh lawyer, Mr. Goswami, on the preparation of his appeal. This is an appeal from a petition that he presented in court to quash the charges. That was denied. That's being appealed. And what's interesting, another - apart from the fact that the, you know, the appearance of trumped-up charges, the authorities with respect to his treatment in the criminal justice system in Bangladesh, of which I said I have a particular interest in, you know, denied a series of his rights as guaranteed under Bangladesh law. I'm not talking about Canadian law. I'm talking about the Bangladesh penal code; the Bangladesh constitution denied his right to protection against arbitrary arrest, to protection against illegal pre-trial detention. He had been detained incommunicado effectively for seventeen months until after pressure, or representations made but in the form of pressure in that regard and protest by the PEN by-committee to protect journalists by parliamentarians in other countries. He was released in April 2005 only to then be the target, as you put it, of intimidation and beatings and threats and another series of denials of rights then began to take place. So I've been able to identify some nine violations of his rights under Bangladesh law, violations of such magnitude that the charges should now be quashed even before the trial begins on the seemingly trumped-up card charges nonetheless.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well as you say then there's a solid case for that to happen. And with the growing international attention and pressure regarding this case, is there maybe some optimism that that will be the outcome, that these charges will be dropped?
COTLER: Well I'll tell you, it's hard to say and previous cases where I've represented political prisoners I've seen sometimes, regrettably, you know people detained much longer than they should have been and then charged and imprisoned and after you know a kind of show-trial and then one has to keep after it, after the post-conviction situation. We are now in the just on the eve of the actual trial, and I would hope that the authorities would quash the charges because one, again ironically, one of the charges against him with respect to sedition is that he has been undermining the image of Bangladesh with his writings, but in fact it's the other way around. It's
Bangladesh that is having its image undermined by the nature of the false charges and the abusive prosecution. As I say, we in Canada have a particular interest in this because we have a joint rule-of-law project with Bangladesh in that regard. I've always had, you know, high regard for the evolving democracy in Bangladesh, so I would hope that they would do the right thing, quash the charges, because they can appreciate that at this point there are other parliamentarians, and the European Union passed a resolution protesting against his charges against him. American Congressmen have been involved. NGOs as I've mentioned, have taken up the case, so it does not - it is not even in the, if I can use the term, the self-interest of Bangladesh you know to continue with this case, apart from the fact that the very injustice of it warrants to the quashing of the charges.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well and
Canada does, through a variety of channels, provides a lot of money in foreign aids to Bangladesh, to help the people of that country. Now that's what it's meant to do. It would be unfortunate that we would use that as leverage, but maybe it's an avenue for us to do so. Do you think it's to the point where we should be looking at options such as that?
COTLER: Well I, as I say, I wouldn't like to see that the Bangladesh people would in any way you know suffer from any withdrawal of you know foreign aid on our part, but certainly I think that the Bangladesh government should be concerned when this type of proceeding has really has an adverse impact on the overall relationship between Canada and Bangladesh. If we have an investment in another context in a joint rule-of-law project, then it does not recommend the continuation of that particular project, if in fact the project is being undermined and abused and is no longer serving the purpose for which it was intended. I would not like to see that happen. I think we want to encourage it in concert and partnership with the Bangladeshi government the advancement of the rule-of-law, but we cannot, you know, begin to acquiesce in a process which under the cover of the rule-of-law ends up undermining the rule-of-law and putting the people on trial when in fact they should, if anything, be rewarded for being good citizens and speaking up in favor of interface, dialogue, and the like. So I would hope that those in authority in
Bangladesh will see, as I say, for reasons of justice, for reasons of the Canada-Bangladesh relationship, particularly in the matter of the joint rule-of-law project, and for reason of their own self-image as a country that wants to be seen to be an evolving democracy that they would quash the charges.
BREAKENRIDGE: Of course being in Parliament now, as we all realize that the government and in particular the Foreign Affairs Minister are of another party, but can you be an avenue of communication with the Department of Foreign Affairs so that the government is up to speed on this, so if Canada needs to take a position as a country that we are well-informed and able to do so?
COTLER: Well you mentioned a good point. I think in matter of this kind this is not a matter of party partisanship. And as it happens I have spoken with a Member of Parliament from your area, Jason Kenney the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, and I briefed him on this case and he has himself looked into it and appreciates the nature of the case, and I am hoping that, you know, the government will make as well the appropriate representations in this regard. I did raise it in Parliament before Parliament rose, and spoke in Parliament about this case, and I'm seeking to engage now you know Parliamentarians from the various parties, because, as I say, this is not a party free (?) issue, it is something all Parliamentarians from whatever party and all people concerned with human rights should in fact take up this case and cause and make their views known to the Bangladesh authorities.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well Mr. Cotler, we'll leave it there. We'll continue to follow this case and perhaps touch base a little bit down the road. But in the meantime, thank you so much for your time here tonight.
COTLER: Well thank you for this. I think that the media itself, which cares so much about you know freedom of the press and the like would also have an interest in a fellow journalist, who not only is being imprisoned, but is being imprisoned because he sought to exercise freedom of the press.
BREAKENRIDGE: Well let's hope so. Irwin Cotler thanks again.
COTLER: Good speaking with you.
BREAKENRIDGE: Alright, former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, still Liberal MP for Mount-Royal, also of course his background as a human rights lawyer, still acting in that capacity now officially part of the legal team for journalist, Bangladesh journalist Shoaib Choudhury. So as we say, follow that case and hopefully others in the media, as Irwin says, do take note.

Posted on 26 Dec 2006 by Root
 
 
 
 
 


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