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home : news & features : local news Thursday, August 09, 2007

8/8/2007 8:59:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Journalist accused of treasonVows to continue fight against radical Islam
by Eric Fingerhut

Staff Writer

A Bangladeshi journalist facing a death sentence for traveling to Israel says he doesn't want political asylum. He wants to fight the charges and help his country escape the influence of radical Islam.

In the District last week, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury said it was essential for the world to know that his country was suffering from the "very dangerous growth" of radical Islam financially backed by Saudi Arabia.

Addressing about 20 people at the American Jewish Committee's office on Wednesday morning of last week, he said he hoped that Americans would raise the issue with Muslim governments and take actions, such as stop buying Saudi oil, that would hinder the spread of Saudi influence.

Choudhury, a Muslim, is the publisher of the English-language newspaper The Weekly Blitz. He was arrested in 2003 before boarding a plane to Jerusalem for a meeting of the Hebrew Writers Association.

He spent the next 17 months being tortured in a Bangladeshi prison ‹ where his legs were broken, he was forced to sleep on a bale of hay and his eyesight was damaged, according to Richard Benkin, a Chicago Jewish activist who has been assisting Choudhury throughout his ordeal and appeared with him at the AJCommittee meeting.

Choudhury has been charged with three crimes: blasphemy, for criticizing Islamic militancy; sedition, for attempting to travel to the Jewish state; and treason, for praising Jews and Christians. His fate will be decided not by a jury, but by the decision of one man, the judge. The trial is closed to the media, but Choudhury said that the U.S. Embassy and the European Union have sent observers.

In the U.S. for a week before his trial resumes later this month, Choudhury said that the new army-backed interim government in Bangladesh was willing to let him leave the country because it didn't want to anger journalists.

"They have enough enemies," he said. "They don't want to make more enemies at this stage."

Choudhury said all Bangladesh journalists, and many others, are familiar with his case. But many shy away from writing about it, he said, because they are worried that the government could urge an advertising boycott of their publications or make other trouble for them.

Unfortunately, he said, Western journalists seem to ignore issues "when it is a question of Israel and Jews," and thus have not been doing enough reporting about what is happening in his native country.

Choudhury pointed out that there are 64,000 madrassas (Islamic religious schools) now in Bangladesh and 3,780 "kindergarten madrassas," funded by Saudi Arabia and teaching children lessons such as "Jews and Christians are your enemy."

Furthermore, he noted that while one must get a license to open a school in Bangladesh, the madrassas are under no such rules.

"This is the way the money is coming into the Muslim world," he said. "They're using money to" radicalize young people, he said.

Choudhury believes that if he were to accept offers of political asylum, his ordeal would have been for naught. He added that he hoped those "creating trouble" for his country might take asylum in Saudi Arabia instead, but acknowledged that was unlikely.

Choudhury has the attention of political leaders in the United States. With the help of lobbying from AJCommittee, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 409-1, passed a resolution in March urging the Bangladeshi government to drop the charges and stop its harassment of Choudhury.

Benkin said that he and Choudhury have received more requests for congressional meetings than they could accommodate during the weeklong trip.

Choudhury and Benkin also stressed that the United States, because of its economic and political standing, has a tremendous amount of influence in a country such as Bangladesh. Choudhury noted that any U.S. ambassador who requests to meet with the head of the Bangladeshi government is immediately welcomed.

But the congressional resolution was not enough to convince Bangladesh to drop the charges. Asked if he has hope that he will win in court, Choudhury said to a reporter, "I have to ‹ otherwise I'd become hopeless."

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