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From outside of the United States Capitol Building, US Congressman Mark Kirk congratulates Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury on the tremendous support for House Resolution 64 passed to support him. -- Picture courtesy of Dr. Richard Benk

US Passes Resolution on Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Monday March 19 2007 16:29:18 PM BDT

For many months, several US officials have been urging the Bangladeshi government to drop charges of sedition, treason and blasphemy against journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat and one of the most powerful Senators in Washington, for example, wrote a strong letter to the current government in Dhaka through the Bangladeshi embassy.

In it, the Senator said that “the sedition charge is a form of retaliation for Mr. Choudhury’s political views and a serious violation of his human rights.”

Members of Congress from both parties, led by Congressman Mark Kirk of Chicago, Mr. Choudhury’s principle defender in Congress, have issued many strong statements to the Bangladeshis. Diplomats tend not to get involved in matters like this, but even the US Embassy in Dhaka and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher have urged the Bangladeshis to drop charges the Bangladeshis admit are baseless.

But the Bangladeshi government ignored them, apparently mistaking friendly warnings for a weak stance. So last week, the US increased the stakes.

By an overwhelming vote of 409 to 1, Congress passed a Resolution that calls on Bangladesh “to immediately drop all pending charges” against Mr. Choudhury. While resolutions like this never contains sanctions, they “set the basis for serious sanctions if the recipient doesn’t get the message,” according to Dr. Richard L. Benkin, the American who has led the battle for Mr. Choudhury both in the United States and internationally.

When I asked Dr. Benkin what form those sanctions might take, he told me that he “could not speak for the US government of anyone in particular” and urged me to look closely at the speakers and their words. Two of the speakers were the top Democrat (Cong. Nita Lowey of New York) and the top Republican (Cong. Kirk) on the committee that rules on US aid to Bangladesh. In fact, this was Cong. Kirk’s resolution, and Cong. Lowey was his co-sponsor. Mr. Kirk called the charges “politically motivated” and used “in an effort to silence [Mr. Choudhury].” Cong. Lowey said that ‘We are watching, and we will not allow Mr. Choudhury and others like him to be silenced.” Cong. John Boozman of Arkansas, the Republican floor leader on the measure, said that it had his “wholehearted support.” He represents the district where the largest importer of Bangladeshi garments is located.

Dr. Benkin also called it “extremely important” that every speaker tied Shoaib’s persecution to the War on Terror. “That, for instance, is a direct message to Bangladesh that dropping the charges against Shoaib is the only way they can prove what they have been trying to tell Washington for years; namely, that they are a moderate Muslim nation and an ally in the war on terror. If they don’t it’ll just be noise.”

Dr. Benkin was present for the Resolution and during the debate in which he was called a “tireless human activist” and along with Mr. Choudhury the “inspiration” for this effort.

Hannah Brown, California USA-For News from Bangladesh
E Mail : hannahwrite@comcast.net


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