(photo credit: Courtesy)
The trial of a moderate Bangladeshi Muslim editor charged with denouncing Islamic extremism and advocating ties with Israel is set to enter a critical new phase Monday as proceedings against him resume in a Dhaka courtroom.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the English-language Weekly Blitz newspaper, faces multiple counts of sedition, treason and blasphemy in connection with a series of articles he published that Bangladeshi authorities deemed favorable to Israel and critical of Muslim extremism.
Prosecutors will begin calling witnesses against him when the hearings resume Monday.
Contacted via e-mail by The Jerusalem Post, Choudhury expressed little confidence that he would receive a fair trial, describing it as being little more than "a pre-set drama," with the presiding judge, Muhammad Momin Ullah, serving as both "a one-man judge and jury."
"The judge," he wrote, "has his mind set to convict me. So, we definitely cannot expect justice from him."
"All witnesses are from the prosecution side, and they are all police or intelligence officials, so naturally they will speak in favor of the allegations against me," he wrote.
Although Choudhury's lawyer will be permitted to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses, he will not be allowed to call any of his own to testify in Choudhury's defense.
If found guilty, Choudhury could be sentenced to death.
In a letter sent to Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed last week, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, Choudhury appealed for steps to be taken to ensure his personal security, after Muslim radicals have targeted him for attack in recent months.
As first reported in the Post, a mob of 40 people that included senior members of Bangladesh's ruling party stormed Choudhury's office last month and assaulted him, fracturing his ankle. No arrests were made, and Bangladeshi police refused to allow Choudhury to file charges against his attackers.
In July, his office was fire-bombed shortly after the leader of a radical group threatened to kill him.
"I once again humbly request Your Excellency to kindly intervene," Choudhury wrote Ahmed, "to ensure proper protection and security to me and members of my family."
Choudhury's troubles began in November 2003 at Dhaka's international airport just prior to boarding a flight to Israel, where he was scheduled to deliver an address on promoting understanding between Muslims and Jews. His visit to the Jewish state would have been the first by a Bangladeshi journalist.
After being held in prison for 17 months, where he was tortured by the authorities, Choudhury was freed in April 2005, thanks to a campaign that was waged on his behalf by US human rights activist Dr. Richard Benkin. On October 12, Choudhury was arraigned in a Dhaka court.
The US State Department has criticized the proceedings against him, saying that "Choudhury is clearly a victim of Bangladesh's dysfunctional legal and judicial systems."
International human rights groups have also called for his release, as have various congressmen.