Parliament has passed a resolution against violation of human rights,
repression of journalists, inserting 1.3 million false names in the
voter list recently. Another resolution expressing concern at the
repression of journalists in Bangladesh has also been pressed in the US Congress during last month. An eminent senator in Australia gave a very strong statement in the Senate condemning atrocities on the journalists in Bangladesh.
On the other hand, western media is becoming increasingly concerned at
the level of journalist repression, human rights abuse and torture of
religious minority in the country. But, Bangladesh
missions abroad had to simply remain as mere spectator to all these
happenings, which surely is tarnishing the image of the country.
Australian Senator Ursula Stephens gave a very strong speech in the House saying, “Last Sunday, the 25th November, marked the 25th
Anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of
all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion and
Belief. And on 10th December we will celebrate Human Rights Day. But
despite such international covenants, many states fail to promote
tolerance for others’ beliefs, or even to protect their citizens’ right
to freedom of religion or belief.
message of most religions is peace and tolerance, but too often we find
that intolerance of one religion for another exists; indeed, in some
parts of the world it seems to be thriving. So, this evening I want to
speak this intolerance and I’ll begin right here in Australia.
are justly proud of our multicultural society, and have made
substantial efforts to outlaw vilification and to encourage mutual
understanding and justice for all. There are many, many examples of
this effort -- in legislation, in education campaigns and public
Just one example: Australia
was one of the first countries to endorse the final declaration at the
2000 Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, which included
commitments to strengthen “efforts to promote education, remembrance
and research about the holocaust” and to “promote education about the
holocaust in our schools and universities, in our communities and
encourage it in other institutions”.
concerning it is, therefore, to read that in the year ending 30
September 2006, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry logged 442
reports of incidents defined by the human rights and equal opportunity
commission as “racist violence” against Jewish Australians. This was 47
per cent more acts of vandalism, harassment and intimidation than the
average annual total. The incidents included physical assault,
vandalism – including arson attacks, hate mail, graffiti, leaflets,
posters and abusive e-mails.
offences were spread all around the country: racial vilification,
anti-Jewish telephone calls, and text messages as a mode for
all this was happening we in Parliament were doing our best to
condemned anti-Semitism. In the last session the Senate resolved to
condemn racism in all its forms. That resolution demonstrates that
everyone in this place is united in the belief that the way forward to
a more peaceful, tolerant world is through dialogue. As we are reminded
in the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed"
the minds of men, and women, it is all too easy to harbour suspicion of
those whose beliefs are different from our own – much easier, indeed,
than making the effort to listen respectfully and trying to understand
where they are coming from. Listening receptively does not mean
forfeiting our own principled position. It means treating another
person’s perspective with respect in the hope of finding a way in which
we can live together peacefully. It’s not always easy to accept the fact that people have different traditions, religions and values. But it’s worth the effort.
Let me give you an example. When the late Pope John Paul II was planning his visit to Sydney,
back in 1986, he requested a meeting with the leadership of the
Australian Jewish community—and this caused quite a bit of
apprehension. The Jewish delegation felt that until Israel received
formal diplomatic recognition from the Vatican there would be an
enormous chasm between Catholics and Jews —and they had no idea how the
Pope might respond to this point of view.
fact, their fears were baseless. Pope John Paul II treated them
respectfully, as equal partners in dialogue. And it was at that Sydney
meeting that the Pope first articulated the view that, for all
Catholics, anti-Semitism is a sin. This was a huge breakthrough for
inter-faith dialogue and understanding – for mutual respect and the
growth of trust. Since 1998 the Australian Catholic Bishops' Committee
for Ecumenism (ACBC) and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry
(ECAJ) have held a formal "Annual Conversation", to further dialogue in
provide input into global Catholic-Jewish dialogue, and build a firm
friendship grounded in intellectual, personal and theological mutual
story illustrates how the very nature of dialogue consists in the
ability to see oneself from the perspective of the other. Since human
nature all over the world is same, it is irrational to consider some
persons as brothers and others as enemies, but rational or not, it
happens all too often. We must do everything we can to prevent the
vilification by one group of another, and to speak out against it when
we see it happening.
A case in point is that of the Bangladesh journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury , who is facing charges of sedition, treason and espionage in a Dhaka court. Mr Choudhury is a devout Muslim
who has been an outspoken critic of radical Islamic fundamentalism,
denouncing the hatred and violence it has spread in its wake. A
proponent of greater dialogue and understanding between Muslims and
Jews, he has called on his fellow Bangladeshis to recognise the State
of Israel and establish diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.
was founded as a secular state in 1971, it is currently ruled by a
coalition government that includes two Islamist parties. Of the 147
million people, 83 percent are Muslims. Islamic extremism is reportedly
on the rise, with several fundamentalist groups wanting to replace the
secular system with Sharia, or strict Islamic law.
achieve this, these groups have turned to terrorism. In August last
year, 430 bombs exploded across the country, killing two and injuring
dozens. Three months later, Bangladesh
suffered its first suicide bombings when at least three people
detonated themselves in front of and inside two court buildings.
At least two arrested terrorists in Bangladesh have admitted to being sent by Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia, too, has recognised Bangladesh
as a potential tipping point, sending millions of dollars to the 64,000
Bangladeshi madrassas, or religious schools that preach extremist Islam.
is due to hold elections in January, and it is widely held that the
radicals are set to increase their strength at the ballot box.
In this tense atmosphere, Mr Choudhury’s English-language newspaper, The Weekly Blitz
, has featured strong editorials against violence in the name of
religion, and has called for dialogue between Muslims and Jews as the
first step on the road to peace. Mr Choudhury has paid a severe price
In November 2003, he was arrested at Dhaka's international airport and arrested for violating the Passport Act, which forbids citizens from visiting countries with which Bangladesh
does not maintain diplomatic relations. This is usually punishable by a
fine of $8, but Mr. Choudhury’s experience was quite different: he was
taken into custody, tortured and interrogated for 10 days in an attempt
to extract a confession that he was spying for Israel. He spent the next 17 months in solitary confinement, and was denied medical treatment.
He was released on bail in April 2005, thanks in part to the intervention of U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk,
and by a campaign waged on his behalf by American human rights activist
Dr. Richard Benkin. But the Bangladeshi government decided to pursue
the charges against him.
In July, Islamist militants bombed the offices of the Weekly Blitz. In September, a judge ordered the case continued on the basis that Mr Choudhury had "spoiled" the "image of Bangladesh" and "hurt the sentiments of Muslims" by his positive attitude to Jews and Christians.
Just days before the start of his trial, the offices of The Weekly Blitz were ransacked and Choudhury was assaulted by a mob of 40 people, including senior members of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Local police failed to make any arrests, and refused to allow Choudhury to file charges against his attackers. When he lodged a formal complaint with the police, an arrest warrant was issued for him.
Mr Choudhury’s trial has resumed, and if he’s convicted (as seems
likely) he could face the death penalty. His case may be relatively
unfamiliar to most Australians, aside from a recent article by Janet
Albrechtsen in The Australian, and to some of us it
might seem strange that Mr Choudhury printed articles knowing the
likely anger they would provoke. Why would someone do such a thing? The
answer has to be that, surrounded by extremist he believed in spreading
truth and justice, no matter how high the price.
Renowned Israeli politician turned columnist Michael Freund wrote in the Jerusalem Post,
“With the rise of Islamic extremism across the globe, speaking to
Bangladeshi Muslim journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is like
catching a breath of cool, fresh air on a hot and sweltering
We need to celebrate that breath of fresh air. To protest against the maltreatment of Mr Choudhury and to send the clear message that there should be no place for religious authoritarianism and ideological extremism. Here in Australia, the Mufti Sheik Taj El-Din El-Hilaly has attracted public attention because of speeches in his Sydney mosque denouncing women and Christians and promoting holocaust denial.
Intolerance and fanaticism rob people of their ability to engage in dialogue. Yet,
serious dialogue can help to dispel negative stereotypes and build the
mutual trust that will help us find peaceful solutions to the many
conflicts we see around the world. Of course we must fight terrorism
with the utmost vigour, but it is crucial, too, that we intensify our
dialogue. How we respond to this challenge will determine whether we
will in future live in a world of escalating cultural and ethnic
conflict or in a world in which different civilizations coexist and
cooperate in peace.”
In the Human Rights Resolution titled ‘MPs keep close watch on election process in Bangladesh’, the European Parliament said, “looking
ahead to the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, the European Parliament,
in a resolution adopted by 60 votes to 1 with 1 abstention, welcomes
the formation of a caretaker government but notes that many of the
conditions for ensuring the neutrality of the electoral preparations
have yet to be met.
deplore the recent violence in the country and condemn the physical
attacks on journalists, NGOs, trade unionists and others, and the
violence related to the forthcoming general election and the
Caretaker government and Election Commission both have key roles to play:
wish to see "a strong and decisive caretaker government" but they also
urge President Iajuddin Ahmed's administration to reconstitute the
Election Commission so as "to ensure that the latter can perform, and
is seen to perform, its work in a truly neutral manner".
government, say MEPs, should "create a climate in which all members of
the electorate will feel genuinely free to use their right to vote" and
should "guarantee media balance during the election campaign". To this
end they ask the authorities to "put an end to the climate of impunity
and to bring to justice the perpetrators of violence and harassment
directed towards journalists in Bangladesh".
Election Commission is urged, in cooperation with domestic and
international experts, to improve the quality and accuracy of the voter
register. According to the EU Commission, 13 million invalid
names have been added to the register.
Journalists under attack:
press freedom, the resolution states that in 2006 three journalists
were killed and at least 95 others attacked, and 55 press
correspondents were the targets of intimidation because of articles
considered to be ‘non‑Islamic’. In the course of the year more than 70
journalists have been forced to flee the country.
The case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a journalist who advocates dialogue between religions and recognition of Israel,
is highlighted. He was arrested in November 2003 and is in danger of
being condemned to death for sedition at his trial, which is due to
open on 13 November. The resolution calls for a review of his
trial and for his acquittal.
Appeal for political consensus and religious tolerance:
political parties are called upon to reach agreement on all
controversial electoral issues, to avoid political violence and
instability and to develop political programs which will improve the
standard of the population’s living conditions.
The resolution "reaffirms the European Parliament’s commitment to Bangladesh’s
unique tradition of religious tolerance and secularism, as enshrined in
the country’s longstanding cultural traditions and artistic heritage,
and as endorsed in the European Parliament’s previous resolutions".
their part, the Commission and Council are asked to monitor carefully
the human rights situation, the political situation and press freedom
in Bangladesh and draw up programs, in the framework of EU-Bangladesh cooperation, to promote freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”
press is already voicing to stop buying Bangladeshi goods, including
readymade garments, if countries human rights situation does not
improve remarkably. They are also suggesting stopping repression of
journalists, ensuring rights of religious minorities and holding all
future elections under free and fair atmosphere. It may be recalled
here that, European Union offered transparent ballot boxes to
Bangladesh Election Commission absolutely free of cost. But, Election
Commission, which has already been labeled as working with the agenda
of ensuring another victory for BNP-JIB duo did not accept the proposal
of EU for understandable reason. This has shown to the world that, Bangladesh is certainly inclined in holding a free and fair election.
Meanwhile, US government has put specific emphasis on holding a free and fair election in Bangladesh. They said, if any of the election is boycotted by major political parties, result of it won’t get international endorsement.
The European Union and Japan, funding Bangladesh’s
many major development projects, have also expressed concern over the
threat to the country’s stability posed by rising militancy. It may be recalled here that, political opponents of BNP-JIB duo are demanding an overhauling of the Election Commission and appointment of acceptable figures for running the vital institution.