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US Congressman Eliot Enge & Richard Benkin Talking seated

Western Support for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury Not so Curious

Thursday April 05 2007 14:25:25 PM BDT

By Dr. Richard L. Benkin, USA

After virtually ignoring the case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury for years, some writers have begun wondering why the Weekly Blitz editor has received so much international support, culminating with a US Congressional Resolution in his favor.

The writers range from the popular to the obscure, the venal to the truly mystified; but though they claim to be interested in finding an answer, not one ever contacted me, Congressman Mark Kirk, or Shoaib himself. And it still baffles us why no major Bangladeshi newspaper seriously investigated the case—in which international human rights lawyer, Dr. Irwin Cotler whose clients have included Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov, identified eight violations of Bangladeshi law.

Shoaib’s Western support is not as curious as they would have us believe, and follows from two actions, the first by Shoaib himself. It is no secret that neither official or private Bangladeshis have done a good job of building bridges with the West, whose taxpayers send millions in aid and purchase Bangladeshi goods, a major reason why the West has little interest in the world’s seventh largest country. But Shoaib began his quest precisely by reaching out, asking how he could help build understanding between Bangladesh and the US, Muslims and Jews. He taught me about your country, your people, your traditional values of openness, and your struggles past and present. I also learned that while the Arab world ignored your struggle for independence, Bangladeshis received the most help and earliest recognition from India and Israel—the two countries most often vilified in your press. Shoaib’s efforts touched me and encouraged thoughts of helping to soften ever hardening attitudes.

Despite my optimism, however, few others joined the interaction. In 2003, one Dhaka daily published my “Dear Bangladesh,” an article that highlighted your country’s potential international role and similarities between our peoples; bases for honest dialogue and peace. Published responses were almost uniformly hostile, often attributing it to a non-existent “Zionist conspiracy” and explicitly refused further interaction. No other dailies accepted my proffered articles, and the one that published “Dear Bangladesh” told me not to send anymore. Still wondering why Shoaib resonated with so many of us?

The second reason for support was the injustice of the charge and the BNP government’s complete mishandling of it. In November 2003, Shoaib was arrested on his way to a writer’s conference in Israel. If any question remained about the importance of standing up for Shoaib, the BNP government put it to rest. They held him without charge, claiming that he was “spying for Israel.” An absurd charge made without evidence (even to this day), it defines rogues and charlatans worldwide. Shoaib had already established his credentials as a bridge-builder between us for which the government subjected him to continuous “interrogation.”

When their actions came to light later—actions that purveyors of injustice prefer to keep in the dark—the government and its apologists claimed that Shoaib was arrested for violating a minor passport act. Such charges are disingenuous on their face and discredit those who continue to allege them. That violation is punishable by a 500 taka fine or at most, 30 days in jail. Shoaib was held far longer and, as established by witnesses, tortured in an effort to extract a false confession that he was a spy for Israel. When he was charged, it was for sedition, which belies the phony claim that he was arrested for trying to visit Israel. And it took 17 months of unrelenting effort to get Shoaib bail at a time when the government was releasing accused terrorists voluntarily. Perhaps Dhaka’s representatives in Washington were not used to so much attention because they seemed intent on making one misstep after another. A year after Shoaib’s arrest, I met with two counselors at the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington. When pressed why Shoaib remained in prison, both admitted having found no evidence. That he remained in jail only cemented my resolve to see my brother released and end this injustice.

The embassy and Dhaka would promise action but never deliver. I was present when one high official promised a US Congressman that Shoaib would be released and the charges dropped. That was two years ago, and the government of Bangladesh has yet to recover from this “credibility gap” in Washington. Compounding Dhaka’s problems in Washington, several officials admitted that the charges had no basis and were being maintained only for fear of “how the radical would react” if they were dropped. Now, Shoaib’s case opened previously locked doors hiding an array of human rights violations in Bangladesh and many courageous Bangladeshis fighting injustice and facing unjust persecution. Recently, some have reached out to those who can help, and I was privileged to meet with Shahriar Kabir. Success with Shoaib’s case can help them, too.

Some months back, one writer counseled us to stop the clamor on Shoaib’s behalf, saying that the Bangladesh media has “a great capacity to look after and protect its own. If a patent injustice is done to Shoaib, it is certain that the loudest noises will be made right here at home.” Well, one has been done for the past three years; and the silence is deafening.

Richard L. Benkin is a correspondent for Weekly Blitz and Amader Shomoy. He has led the fight on behalf of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and was termed by the US Congress a “tireless human rights champion.” He invites people to visit his web site, http://www.InterfiathStrength.com and to contact him for honest dialogue.
E Mail : drrbenkin@comcast.net


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