Bangladeshi journalist Salah Choudhury stands accused of treason, sedition, and insulting religion.
By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
Since 2003, Bangladeshi journalist and peace activist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has been investigated by Bangladeshi authorities on charges of sedition, treason and insulting religious belief.
Choudhury, 44, has spent years opposing Muslim extremism through his writings, especially the Weekly Blitz which he started in 2003. He has called for interfaith dialogue and for normalizing relations between Muslim countries and Israel.
On Wednesday, Choudhury returns to court. He is accused of insulting Islam and harming the state's reputation abroad, charges which, when couched as "sedition," carry a possible death penalty.
"According to my lawyers in Bangladesh, the government is determined to conclude the trial as soon as possible," he wrote in a public letter over the weekend. "No one knows what will be the verdict. But, of course, seeing the past track record, we cannot hold any hope for a good [result] because the court is not applying its judicial mind, but trying to appease the Islamists."
Choudhury's newspaper offices were bombed on July 6, 2006, after he expressed public sympathy for the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam.
On October 5, he was attacked in his office by a mob that included prominent members of the then-ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which historically has aligned itself with Islamist parties in the country, who accused him of being an Israeli agent. He was badly beaten.
Choudhury was the subject of US House Resolution 64 of March 13, 2007, which objected to continued "harassment and intimidation" and his incarceration in 2004 for 17 months without legal recourse, during which he was placed in solitary confinement and "suffered harsh interrogation techniques and received no treatment for a debilitating case of glaucoma," according to the resolution.
The House resolution called for the Bangladeshi government to "immediately drop all pending charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhuryâ€¦ and take steps to protect Mr. Choudhury."
It noted that the "US Commission on International Religious Freedom visited with Mr. Choudhury on their trip to Bangladesh in February and March 2006... and identified Mr. Choudhury as one of those voices that should not be silenced."
Choudhury's case has been taken up by human rights groups and activists including Canadian human rights expert and MP Irwin Cotler, Dr. Richard L. Benkin - like Choudhury, an advisory board member of the Islam-Israel Fellowship - the Committee to Protect Journalists, the American Jewish Committee and Reporters Without Borders.
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