(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Muslim journalist facing charges of sedition for advocating ties with Israel was recently attacked and beaten by a crowd in Bangladesh that allegedly included leading officials of the country's ruling party, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the Weekly Blitz newspaper, an English-language publication based in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, was working in his office on October 5 when nearly 40 people stormed the premises.
The mob beat Choudhury, leaving him with a fractured ankle, and looted cash that was kept in the company safe. Choudhury was briefly hospitalized.
According to a statement appearing on the Web site of the Weekly Blitz, the attackers were led by Helal Khan, international affairs secretary of Jasas, and included Babul Ahmed, Jasas's secretary-general. Jasas is the cultural wing of the ruling Bangladeshi National Party (BNP).
During the assault, Ahmed is said to have shouted at Choudhury, labeling him an "agent of the Jews."
In a photo taken shortly after the incident that was obtained exclusively by the Post, Choudhury can be seen hunched over a table wearing a torn shirt while a Bangladeshi policeman dressed in blue chats with two BNP officials. Both officials took part in the attack.
No arrests were made, and police refused to allow Choudhury to file charges against his attackers.
As the Post first reported last month, Bangladesh is moving forward with plans to try Choudhury on charges of blasphemy, sedition, treason and espionage in connection with his articles critical of Islamic extremism and favorable to Israel.
After several delays, his trial is due to start in Dhaka on Thursday. If convicted, Choudhury faces the death penalty.
The charges stem from November 2003, when Choudhury was arrested at Dhaka's International Airport as he was preparing to board a flight on his way to Israel, where he was due to deliver a speech on promoting mutual understanding between Muslims and Jews.
Choudhury's visit to Israel would have been the first by a Bangladeshi journalist. Bangladesh does not recognize Israel's existence.
After being held in prison for 17 months, where he was reportedly tortured, Choudhury was released in April 2005. But authorities in Bangladesh, which is ruled by a coalition government that includes Islamic extremists, decided to pursue charges against him.
Dr. Richard Benkin, an American human rights activist leading the fight for Choudhury's release, expressed grave concern about the current situation.
"Choudhury is unique because he has not fled to the West, but continues to oppose militant Islamists from inside the Muslim world," Benkin told the Post. "He feels that if he can defeat the radicals in their own back yard it will be a victory for peace and justice unlike any other thus far."
"More and more Muslims are looking at this case," Benkin said. "They want to see if Shoaib will get the support and protection he needs from the West. If he is victorious, other Muslims will try the same; if we allow him to go down, they will remain silent."
Both the American Jewish Committee and the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN have protested Bangladesh's treatment of Choudhury and called for the charges against him to be dropped.