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In the wake of a series of reports in The Jerusalem Post, a prominent New York congressman is calling on the Bush administration to intervene on behalf of a moderate Muslim editor in Bangladesh who faces the death penalty for criticizing Islamic extremism and advocating ties with Israel.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Anthony Weiner called on her to "use the full influence of your office to correct a grave injustice" against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who is on trial in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on multiple counts of sedition, treason and blasphemy.
"You should convey to the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry that continued prosecution of these outrageous charges indicates intolerance and extremism not in keeping with American interests in the region," Weiner wrote to Rice, adding, "Mr. Choudhury should be cleared of all charges before the next scheduled hearing."
As editor of The Weekly Blitz, an English-language newspaper published in Dhaka, Choudhury angered Bangladeshi authorities after he printed articles favorable to Israel and critical of Muslim extremism.
He was arrested back 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. But the Bangladeshi government, which is ruled by a coalition that includes two extremist Islamic parties, decided to pursue the charges against him.
Choudhury's trial began on October 12, when he was arraigned in a Dhaka court, and the hearings are scheduled to reconvene on November 13. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
Earlier this month, as first reported in the Post, a mob of 40 people that included senior members of Bangladesh's ruling party, stormed Choudhury's office and assaulted him, fracturing his ankle. No arrests were made, and Bangladeshi police refused to allow Choudhury to file charges against his attackers.
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.