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Richard L. Benkin is an independent author and activist. He has penned manuscripts on the Temple Mount; East European Jewish Life; and Miriam, the true hero of Exodus. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and lives with his wife and daughter in suburban Chicago.
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Views: My day in court
Journalist faces sedition trial in Bangladesh for planning to visit Israel

Only Americans can save Bangladeshi journalist who sought Israeli ties
By Richard L. Benkin   November 17, 2006

The fight to save anti-Islamist journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has entered a new and critical stage. Having put its lot with Islamist radicals and now finding itself held hostage by them, the government of Bangladesh put Choudhury on trial for "sedition, treason, and blasphemy," for which he could be put to death if convicted.

"If convicted" is rather perfunctory since the judge in the trial has sole discretion over Choudhury's fate and has made his intentions clear. He is associated with radical Islamist parties in Bangladesh and has already said that he is "not interested in evidence." He has also said that "by praising Christianity and Judaism, [Choudhury] has harmed Islam."

By exposing the growing Islamist threat in Bangladesh and advocating that Bangladesh establish relations with Israel, according to this judge, he has offended the sentiments of Muslims. The judge also said that he will not allow any defense witnesses to be placed
into the court record.

After months of difficult negotiations, it appeared by the summer of 2006 that the Bangladesh government understood it to be in their country's interests to drop the charges against Choudhury. Several of its leading officials had already admitted that the capital charges were false; but they all said they could not drop them because "they were afraid how the [Islamist] radicals would react." That referred both to radical parties in the ruling coalition and to voters in the upcoming January elections. Thus, they embarked on a convoluted process that would result in the charges being dropped in accordance with legal procedures; and, contrary to their previously empty assurances, this one, it appeared, they were be following throughout the summer. But in September, Judge Mohammed Momin Ullah ruled that Choudhury would be tried for these crimes, despite the fact that the Public Prosecutor testified that there was no evidence to support the charges and the government would not object to them being dropped.

International outrage, however, seems to be getting the better of the government, as on November 13 it postponed Choudhury's next court date until 2007. That would take the onus off the current government and leave it with the new government that will take over after elections-and not have to worry about radical voters for another five years. It also gives us more time to fight this injustice.

The US Congress re-convened that same day. The next day-its first full day back in session-US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) who has been Choudhury's champion in the Congress, introduced a Resolution urging the Bangladeshis to drop the false charges and end all other forms of harassment against Choudhury. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) co-sponsored the Resolution with him.

The following day, every member of Congress was notified about the bill and urged to support it. "Congress must send a clear message: we cannot allow moderate voices in the Muslim world to be silent.

While House Resolution 1080 does not contain specific sanctions against the Bangladesh government, it sets the stage for them (Kirk had already secured language in an appropriations bill that associated aid to Bangladesh with justice in this case.) Moreover, it places in the official record that the Bangladeshi government is wrong to persecute someone for advocating relations between Jews and Muslims, between Bangladesh and Israel; that the Bangladeshi government has lied repeatedly and that their statements cannot and will not be trusted; and that the same government is engaged in a pattern of persecution. Perhaps most significantly, it puts to rest once and for all, the disingenuous assertion by Bangladeshi officials that the nation does not have a problem with radical Islamists.

The resolution and attendant attention (the Wall Street Journal carried an editorial supporting the resolution the day after it was introduced) seems to be working. Choudhury's police protection at his house, which was removed more than two weeks ago mysteriously re-appeared after the resolution was introduced; and Choudhury's challenge of his case's legality to the High Court, which was originally assigned to another hard line radical judge, was switched to a more moderate one and given a hearing.

But Choudhury's defenders will not be satisfied with half measures. The next step would be to cut or hold up the US's $63 million appropriation to Bangladesh; and there already has been considerable talk in the US about not buying Bangladeshi garments, on which that economy is totally dependent.

People who are citizens of the United States should act immediately and encourage their Congressional representatives to Support House Resolution 1080. They should also encourage everyone they know to do the same. Kirk's staff will be working on lining up co-sponsors and supporters over the next two weeks. If the member of Congress has received a communication from a constituent, it will make support of the resolution close to a certainty.

For those who do not have a way to make that contact, they can go to our web site, and click on the instructions that will take them to the American Jewish Committee's web site where they can do it in a few clicks.

There is a quote at the top of that web site: "If the Choudhurys were in Europe during the Holocaust, they would have refused to drive the trains."

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has stood up for us at considerable peril; now it is up to us to stand up for him.

Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of israelinsider.

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