After repeated delays, the trial of a Bangladeshi Muslim editor arrested for advocating ties with Israel began in Dhaka on Wednesday.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the Weekly Blitz
, an English-language newspaper published in the Bangladeshi capital, is facing a series of charges that include sedition.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
In November 2003, Choudhury was arrested at Dhaka's international airport just prior to boarding a flight on his way to Israel, where he was scheduled to deliver an address on promoting understanding between Muslims and Jews. His visit to Israel would have been the first by a Bangladeshi journalist.
Bangladesh does not recognize Israel's existence.
Since his arrest, Choudhury has been subjected to various forms of intimidation and harassment. Two years ago, the offices of his newspaper were the target of an attempted bombing by unknown assailants.
In the first day of testimony this week, the prosecution called Abdul Hanif, the officer in charge at the airport when Choudhury was detained.
Hanif accused Choudhury of being anti-Islamic, and said that he had "praised Jews and Christians" and defamed Bangladesh. The hearings were then adjourned.
Contacted by The Jerusalem Post
, a spokeswoman for the Bangladeshi Mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the case, saying she was not familiar with the details.
Dr. Richard Benkin, an American Jewish activist who has been leading the fight on Choudhury's behalf, told the Post
that while he was clearly concerned about the trial, he nonetheless remains cautiously optimistic.
"The judge conducted himself in a judicially correct and professional manner today, something we never experienced under the previous government which initiated these charges," Benkin said.
In a message sent to his supporters abroad after the conclusion of the first day of hearings, Choudhury remained upbeat, declaring: "Now my luck hangs in the balance of being either acquitted from the charges by the court or accorded capital punishment."
"But let us remain strong. Pray for me, for God is with us and we shall win," he said.