Today may be an ordinary day for the rest of us, but it is the
day that Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury goes on trial for his life in
Mr. Choudhury, a Bangladeshi journalist, is accused, he told me, of
"praising Jews and Christians," "spying for Israel,"
and being "an agent of the Mossad" — because he advocated relations
between Israel and Bangladesh. He's also accused of being critical
of Islamic radicals, which is considered blasphemy. He committed
these crimes by writing articles favorable toward Jews and
When I interviewed him by telephone on Friday, I found him
remarkably calm for someone facing death. I sat for a few minutes in
a state of near shock after our conversation ended with him politely
thanking me for my time and saying, "I hope that people in the world
will stand with us against radical Islamists. We can be free
together and secure the world for future generations."
He did so, he says, because while he was born and raised in a
Muslim country, Bangladesh, where he was taught a "religion of
hatred" and a "religion of jihad," his father "told from an early
age not to listen and to learn for himself." He did and became
friends with Jews, realized the lies he had been taught, and wanted
to end "the culture of hatred." He says that if "Muslim countries
want peace, they need relations with Israel."
Mr. Choudhury says he holds no hope of getting a fair trial. The
judge, he says, is a radical Islamist who has already made clear his
view that Mr. Choudhury is guilty. "In open court ... he made
comments that by praising Christians and Jews I have hurt the
sentiment of Muslims ... which is a crime," the journalist says.
Other comments made by the judge have made it clear, Mr. Choudhury
tells me, that the judge's goal is a conviction and a death
sentence. Mr. Choudhury describes his judge as a "one man judge and
jury," and Mr. Choudhury cannot even present witnesses in his own
defense. Why hasn't Mr. Choudhury fled Bangladesh despite, he says,
having had the opportunity? Because, he says, "if I leave I will be
proved to be a coward ... I want to fight the matter to the last."
Many of Mr. Choudhury's colleagues have fled the country, but Mr.
Choudhury, a practicing Muslim, wants to live free in his own
country and beat the case set against him. "There is no pride, no
honor, and no dignity in retreating," he says.
Mr. Choudhury's pretrial run hasn't been easy. He spent 17 months
between 2003 and 2005 in prison without trial. Just this year he's
been attacked twice: In July, his office was bombed, and in October
he was assailed in person. Both times the police did nothing. But he
has received support from some quarters of Bangladeshi society. The
Bangladesh Minority Lawyer's Association has been especially
supportive. He said there are "many good Muslims who are silently
expressing solidarity," but they fear repercussions from the
Benkin, the Chicago-based
analyst who introduced me to Mr. Choudhury, began a friendship with
Mr. Choudhury in 2003, before Mr. Choudhury's ordeal started. Mr.
Benkin says Mr. Choudhury wrote him an e-mail in response to some
online articles he'd written about Israel "which essentially said
‘my country gets biased and incomplete information about Jews and
Israel ... I know there is more, can you help?'"
Mr. Choudhury's case may be relatively unfamiliar to most
Americans, aside from a recent column by Bret Stephens of the
Street Journal. But Mr. Choudhury does have some American
allies. Mr. Benkin reports that Rep.
Mark Kirk, a Republican of Illinois,
has been "fantastic." Mr. Kirk demanded a meeting with Bangladesh's
ambassador to America
in 2005, and three weeks later Mr. Choudhury was freed — after his
17 months in jail without trial. The ambassador admitted to them,
Mr. Benkin says, that the charges were false. The government of
Bangladesh promised the charges would be dropped, but they never
were. The government feared, Mr. Benkin says, the reaction of
radical Islamists who were coalition partners.
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