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Repression of Blitz Editor: Bill pressed in US Congress

Repression of Blitz Editor:

Bill pressed in US Congress

Special Correspondent

US Reps Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced legislation in the 109th Congress 2nd Session calling on the government of Bangladesh to drop sedition charges pending against Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. The three point Bill demands immediate dropping of all charges against Choudhury, immediate returning of confiscated possessions, cease harassment and intimidation, take steps for his protection and hold accountable those who attacked the editor during July and October this year.

It may be mentioned here that, previous coalition government brought a false charge of sedition, treason and blasphemy against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury for criticizing rise of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh. Choudhury promotes interfaith understanding between people of all faith and confronts religious hatred.

Weekly Blitz office was bombed in July by leader of Khatmey Nabuat Movement, Mufti Noor Hussain Noorani and later he was physically assaulted while cash and valuables in his office was looted by armed thugs led by BNP’s cultural wing leader Babul Ahmed and Helal Khan. A case was already lodged in this connection with the Metropolitan Magistracy Court in Dhaka on 8th October, which now awaits investigation by Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Meanwhile, one Ruhul Alam Khan phone Choudhury and threatened of dire consequences, if the case was not withdrawn. Although there had been an investigation into the matter by the additional Police Commissioner as well ADC of Detective Branch, attackers were not arrested nor were any legal actions initiated against them. Rather, under pressure from BNP leaders, police is continuously trying to send the matter into cold storage, to save the leaders of JASAS. Meantime, attackers belong to BNP’s cultural wing are continuously trying to harass the editor of Weekly Blitz by submitting false complaints with various police officials. Recently, the Assistant Commissioner in Charge of North Zone, sent a notice to Choudhury to appear before him on 12h November at 11:00 am. Despite road blockades and lack of transports on the road, the editor went to the office of the Assistant Commissioner, where he was informed that the officer was busy in tackling political programs. Choudhury was asked to see the officer on 14th November.

When the assistant commissioner was phoned from Blitz office, he said that, an application filed by a person having good relations with BNP leadership was forwarded to him for investigation and comments by higher officials.

Meanwhile, government withdrew police protection from Shoaib Choudhury’s residence a couple of weeks back. The matter was brought into the attention of the Chief Advisor vide a couple of letters, which remains unattended till date. It is alleged that a pro-BNP man is now holding important position in the President’s press section, who is trying best to suppress this matter from the attention of Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed.

Our USA Correspondent Dr. Richard Benkin, who has been championing the efforts for getting justice for the Weekly Blitz editor, gave an exclusive interview to discuss the impact of this bill. Excertps:

Q: What was the reason that moved Congressman Mark Steven Kirk in pressing the bill in US Congress?

A: We actually discussed the idea of a resolution some time ago, but the action was taken now for several reasons.  First of all, it is one of several actions and should serve as a signal about how serious the matter has become.  The resolution can help serve as a basis for more concrete action if there is no change in my brother (Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury)'s persecution.  Additionally, the matter is becoming more known throughout the United States especially, and understood as a serious matter.  This sort of thing is not done for frivolous reasons. 

Q: Would you kindly tell us the possible impact of this bill in future US-Bangladesh relations?

A: As I said, it can serve as a justification for more concrete action.  The resolution will be a clear statement by the Representatives of the American people that we consider what is being done to my brother a serious violation of human rights and an indication that the government is caving in to the most radical elements.  Once that is on the record, there are any numbers of serious implications that can follow.

Q: Once in your article, you termed Bangladesh ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury as 'liar ambassador'. May we know the reason behind?

A: Actually, it was an editor's addition that termed him as such; I actually like Shamsher Chowdhury and always hold in esteem his service to his country from the time of its independence.  But what is clear--and what we have demonstrated time and again to members of Congress and others--is that the Bangladeshi ambassador said a great many things that turned out not to be true.  Perhaps he was just following the dictates of his government--whether the Foreign Minister or the Home Minister; but his words turned out to be false.  More significantly for Bangladesh, a great many people in Washington have come to dismiss his words as empty at best.  Let me give you a prime example of what I mean.  On April 8, 2005, Congressman Mark Kirk and I met with Ambassador Chowdhury in the Congressman's Washington office.  As the Congressman and I had arranged previously, one of my roles in that meeting would be to correct any "misstatements" made by the ambassador based on the direct knowledge I had from various sources inside Bangladesh.  So, for instance, during the conversation, Shamsher Chowdhury tried to defend my brother's incarceration by indicating that he was treated humanely.  In that regard, he stated that my brother received good health care while in prison.  This was a terrible lie, and I called him on it.  At the same meeting, Chowdhury stated that the Bangladeshi ban on travel to Israel was now lifted--another falsehood.  Worst of all, he stated that the charges against my brother would be dropped--something he repeated multiple times after that meeting; but they never were.

This pattern of contempt for the truth would come to characterize the Bangladeshi ambassador's stay in Washington.  He first parroted the government line that there were no terrorists in Bangladesh--something he had to backtrack on after the 2005 terror bombings in Bangladesh.  The falsehood further become apparent as the truly radical nature of several BNP coalition partners was revealed.

The list goes on and on.  I have termed the BNP government as "steeped in a culture of mendacity" because of its almost inability to speak the truth.  It might not have been Shamsher Chowdhury himself; I don't know; but as a good soldier, he dutifully became the mouthpiece of mendacity for his government in Washington.

Q: What would be the long term and short term effect of continuation of the false sedition charge against the Blitz editor?

A: The short term effect is that no elements of the Bangladeshi agenda in Washington has any chance of moving forward.  I have been assured of that.  Moreover, the tide of American opinion on this matter is turning sharply.  At one point, there was little in the US media about Bangladesh; now there is a great deal and most of it about this travesty of justice.  As this happens, by the way, it helps highlight other human rights issues there, such as the oppression of religious minorities and the threat of a radical takeover.

Long term, continuing to maintain a charge that several high government officials have admitted several time is false will have negative consequences for US-Bangladesh relations.  To be sure, we understand the argument that Bangladesh is a sovereign nation; bu the fact is that we, the people of the United States have a perfect right to say that we do or do not want our hard-earned tax money to go to a nation that pursues injustice and appeases radicals--which has been given by Bangladeshi officials as the only reason they have not dropped the charges.  One matter is the $63 million annually the United States gives to Bangladesh (with an even greater amoung slated for next year).  People in the most influential media already have begun associating that aid with whether or not Bangladesh stops persecuting my brother--and other journalists and minorities for that matter.  Similarly, the US imports a huge amount of Bangladeshi garments.  I have been asked numerous times about doing something about that.  People ask why we support an economy that caters to radicals when we could just as easily import goods from India or even closer to home from South America.  The more the case becomes a concern to the American people, the less they will want to purchase Bangladeshi products.  It will not take long for other exporters to seize the opportunity and take over that share of the market.

Q: When the editor was arrested, you started working single-handed for his release, without anyone extending support. How did you manage to get thousands of voice in present days, including a growing voice in USA and in other countries, particularly in media?

A: The first answer is that the issue was a real one, a case of injustice that ultimately would stir the basic instincts of the American people.  That being said, anyone trying to get an issue in front of the media knows that it takes more than a good issue.  If I contributed anything to the effort it is the fact that I believed in my brother and knew this was an important issue and that people would recognize it; so, I never took no for an answer and never stopped pushing this.  Now, people have recognized this and the media are coming to us.  It is also important for our enemies--and they know who they are--to understand that they have a false understanding of Americans.  Many of them believe we will tire of fighting and give in to evil.  That is not so.  Congressman Kirk showed them that US politicians are not like others who only take on issues for political reasons.  We will fight for justice until we win--and we always do in the end because good must triumph over evil.  Any political philosophy that is premised on the belief that there is only one possible way, one possible faith, one possible arbiter or right and wrong must perish as did all previous philosophies of their kind.

Q: You predicted 'Hamas like surprise in Bangladesh's next general election in your serialized article in Blitz few months back. Do you still hold that idea?

A: Yes, except I do not believe it is much of a surprise anymore.  The writing is on the wall.  A decade of appeasement has enabled the most radical elements to take up positions in the government, the police, the schools, and elsewhere.  It can be avoided, however, if Bangladeshi leaders show the courage their people deserve.  They should take a lesson from other nations who have met such dangers with a "national unity government" in which old rivals put aside their pride and personal bickering for the good of their people.  I challenge the BNP to ask themselves honestly whether the Awami League or their radical coalition partners pose a greater threat to the well-being of the nation; and similarly, does the Awami League believe it would serve the interests of the Bangladeshi people more if they joined with the BNP in a unity government, throwing out the radicals who in truth want to subvert Bangladeshi democracy.  The Awami Leage-BNP battles are contributing to Bangladesh's inability to move forward for its people.  For the good of the country, let the two great parties put the interests of the nation above the interests of party.
Posted on 15 Nov 2006 by Root

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