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June 29, 2007 edition

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'America, Don't Let This Courageous Man Die'

Posted by Daniel Freedman
Fri, 19 Jan 2007 at 10:13 AM


Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury's ordeal is on its final stretch, one way or another. On Monday the final part of his trial begins and he told us this morning that he expects to know within two to three months whether he'll face the death penalty.

As we wrote in November, "he goes on trial for his life on counts of sedition, treason, and blasphemy."

Mr. Choudhury, a Bangladeshi journalist, is accused, he told us, 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 Christians.

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.

And none of that has changed, he told us this morning. The "same radical judge" is presiding over the trial, and "although the government has changed and the public prosecutor should have been changed," he told us, "it hasn't."

And so his trial, which he describes as "just a game" to those running it, goes on with the same death sentence hanging over his head and with little hope of a fair trial.

We wrote in the Sun on his case. The Sun editorialized on the case as well. Bret Stephens wrote about Mr. Choudhury in the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times editorialized on Mr. Choudhury back in December 2003:

Bangladesh may now be among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. That makes Mr. Choudhury's courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable -- and vital to defend.
Most recently Canadian Member of Parliament and former Justice Ministier, Irwin Cotler, wrote on Wednesday in the Jerusalem Post:
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is not yet a household name. But he should be ...

What can we do to help Choudhury? Quite alot. As I wrote in November:

While the trial is prejudged and Mr. Choudhury will be given a death sentence, the president of the country can drop the charges if the national interest is at stake. And here's where America comes in. America gives Bangladesh $63 million a year. The American people and government might begin to question what we're getting for our investment.

If the threat of reconsideration of that aid allotment isn't enough, 70% of Bangladesh's garment exports are to America. Bangladesh's economy is totally dependent on the garment industry. If America threatens to block imports from Bangladesh and to switch, say, to Indian products unless Mr. Choudhury is freed, that could have quite an effect, Mr. Benkin suggests.

And as Mr. Choudhury reiterated to us this morning, he thinks that the new government in Bangladesh will be more amenable to pressure. He told us that "if they would be hearing complaints from the international community" then they are likely to intervene in the trial.

Americans can write to their representatives in Congress, urging them to support resolutions in Congress supporting Mr. Choudhury. (Update: Here is a resolution to support.)

Letters to the State Department are in order as well. Secretary Rice appeared to punt the case when Congressman Weiner raised the issue. The State Department's main switchboard number is: 202-647-4000.

You can also contact the numbers of the companies that import from Bangladesh and the representatives in Congress from those districts. We post those numbers here.

We remain amazed at Mr. Choudhury's courage. He ended our conversation this morning telling us that "let them do their job and whatever they want because finally they will be defeated." He said: "This is a war against Islamofascism and radical forces and we have to fight it and win the battle ... for the sake of a peaceful world."

America don't let this courageous man die.

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