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
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