Resolve to fight for
Hannah Brown writes from USA
days ago marked the fourth anniversary since Bangladeshi police
arrested Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor and publisher of the Weekly Blitz. In
all that time, they have not produced any evidence against him or
presented his attorneys with any evidence of is a case against his
client. Yet, they continue to say he is a
dangerous man and charge him with sedition, treason, and blasphemy for
which he could be executed if found guilty.
Several sources in Washington admit that Bangladesh’s
interim government and Mr. Choudhury’s supporters have had an unspoken
agreement that neither would take drastic action to change things. But the Bangladeshi government changed that in November. Mr. Choudhury returned to his home after being treated like a hero in the United States and receiving the first Monaco Media Forum award from the hands of that country’s Prince Albert II. A few days later, he had yet another court date. Everyone believed that this one would be the same as all the others, but it was not. Instead
of being told to come back in a month or thereabout, Mr. Choudhury
faced a judge and prosecutor that schemed together to deprive him of
to Mr. Choudhury’s “brother” and principle defender since the day of
his arrest, Dr. Richard Benkin of Chicago, the judge complained that
the Supreme Court was taking too long to rule on Mr. Choudhury’s case. “What
should we do to speed things up?” Benkin said the judge asked the
prosecutor, who suggested that he revoke Mr. Choudhury’s bail. Everyone in the courtroom knew that this was illegal under Bangladeshi law because the matter is before the Supreme Court.
“But that wasn’t the point.” Benkin told me. “The
government wanted to do two things, and let’s remember that the Public
Prosecutor was representing the government and you can bet was getting
his instructions from the government. You
know, the government keeps saying that it can’t do anything to help
Shoaib because it is in the hands of the court, but this shows what
liars they are when they say that.”
Choudhury’s supporters were initially optimistic when Judge Azizul Huq
replace the former judge on the case since that judge was an open
supporter of Islamist radicals. Now, they’re not so sure.
“One thing the government wanted to do was to make things tougher on Shoaib. They
revoked his bail—even though it was illegal, you see, this is no longer
a government of laws—and when they were forced to re-instate it, they
only did so until his next hearing. That makes his position much more precarious, and it seizes an advantage which it hopes would not be noticed by anyone else.” Benkin said.
But might not have been the most significant thing they were doing, according to Benkin. “Ever
since we started fighting this battle, various Bangladeshis said that
they could wait us out on it—that Americans really don’t stand strong
on moral issues. They were probing. They wanted to see if they already waited us out.”
On Wednesday, December 5, they found out that they have not. Benkin contacted several of Shoaib’s supporters in the US Congress. He also contacted representatives from other countries as well. He
told them that the best way to prevent another illegal attempt to throw
Mr. Choudhury into prison was to have international observers in the
courtroom. He also contacted the US Embassy in Dhaka. It worked. When court convened, there were representatives from the governments of the United States and the European Union.
“The response was so strong and so immediate,” Benkin said. “That
we had to get in touch with several members of Congress and tell them
that there was no need for them to get in touch with the State
Department. So, you know what they did? Three of them—two Republicans and one Democrat—send a joint letter of protest to the Bangladeshi Chief Advisor.
The three were Representatives Mark Kirk (Illinois), Trent Franks (Arizona), and Allyson Schwartz (Pennsylvania). They made it clear to Fakhruddin Ahmed that they remained committed to see Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury freed from harassment. In
the meantime, Benkin said that he and his associates have further
measures planned if the government is intent on escalating this matter.
“It was kind of funny,” he said. “I
told them that this government wanted to use the tragedy of the cyclone
as a way of misdirecting everyone so it could pursue its
anti-democratic aims, including trying to get all dissidents like
Shoaib to leave the country. Well, when
they called the embassy, the first thing they heard was how everyone
was tied up with cyclone relief, and that made it clear what the
government was up to. If the government doesn’t back off, we have other things we can do. Their
appropriations are being held up in a committee; people are starting to
write angry letters to importers of Bangladeshi garments; and I am
talking to people at the UN about peacekeeping troops.
Whatever happens from here in, it is clear that no one is abandoning the fight for justice for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. Benkin hopes the Bangladeshi government realizes that, too, before they lose even more for their people.