'The Bangladeshi gov't continues to appease Islamists'

A letter from Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who is on trial in Bangladesh for opposing Islamists and trying to visit Israel.

Salah uddin 88 (photo credit: )
Salah uddin 88
(photo credit: )
The following is adapted from a public letter received from Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury over the weekend, which included a lengthy legal brief by Canadian MP Irwin Cotler. This shorter version was approved by both men. I was arrested on November 29, 2003 by Bangladeshi intelligence agents at Zia International Airport in Dhaka on my way to Tel Aviv to attend a peace conference organized by the Hebrew Writers Association. The then-Islamist coalition government initially brought a minor Passport Act violation charge against me. But on January 24, 2004, under pressure from local Islamists, the government added charges of sedition, treason and blasphemy. The case was handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). On January 1, 2005, the charge sheet was submitted by CID. In it, the investigating officer wrote that I was arrested for possession of a "banned Israeli visa and passport, and while he was attempting to visit Tel Aviv." The sheet says officers "recovered materials from his possession which hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims." In the comment section of the charge sheet, the investigating officer said, "Past record of the accused person: Nothing bad was found about his character after investigation. But, in the primary stage [of the investigation], it is learned that he is a spy for Israeli intelligence." On November 13, 2006, the trial court in Dhaka framed charges against me. Judge Momin Ullah said, "I, Md. Momin Ullah, Metropolitan Session Judge, do hereby accuse you, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, of the following: 'The State Prosecution has brought allegations against you stating that [you are] the editor and owner of Blitz newspaper, that you sent an article titled "Hello Tel Aviv" to the USA Today newspaper published from Washington. Furthermore, in 2003, while attempting to travel to Israel to attend a conference titled "Education Towards a Culture of Peace," you appeared at the Zia International Airport on the 29th [of] November, 2003, and the Immigration Police arrested you and found the copy of the speech you prepared to deliver in the conference. In that speech, you have made offensive comments about the Muslim world, Islam and Muslims in Bangladesh and commented about the existence of al-Qaida and other Islamist militant groups, by which you have tarnished the image of Bangladesh in the outside world. "Furthermore, you have conspired to spread anti-state news through that speech, and by sending that speech to the outside world, you have harmed Bangladesh's security, public discipline and played an adverse role in Bangladesh's relations with the outside world. In your report, you have mentioned guerrilla training in the Bangladeshi madrassas… and made up imaginary stories about jihadist training in favor of [Osama Bin] Laden, [Yasser] Arafat and Saddam [Hussein], by which you have threatened Bangladesh's foreign relations. You have caused offense under Penal Code Sections 505 (A), 295 (A) and 120 (B). "The allegations were read before the accused and he claimed to be innocent (not guilty) and prayed for justice." My international counsel Professor Irwin Cotler already submitted his legal opinion on this case to the court in Bangladesh. Prof. Cotler [argued]: "The charges against Mr. Choudhury are utterly without foundation in fact and law, and constitute a violation of Bangladeshi constitutional and domestic laws, basic principles of criminal law, and international human rights law. "In particular, many of Mr. Choudhury's fundamental human rights, both procedural and substantive, have been violated… Mr. Choudhury was arbitrarily arrested and detained; Mr. Choudhury was not informed promptly and in detail of the nature of the charges against him; Mr. Choudhury was exposed to coercive interrogation; Mr. Choudhury did not have access to adequate legal representation until he was released from prison after 17 months in solitary confinement; Mr. Choudhury has not been given a fair hearing by a competent, independent, and unbiased tribunal; and Mr. Choudhury has not been considered innocent until proven guilty." Prof. Cotler also contended that "no evidence was ever adduced" for the investigator's claim that I am an Israeli spy, nor did I confess to this even under violent interrogation. He stated that "there is no legal basis for the charges levied against Mr. Choudhury. Sedition, blasphemy, and treason have no relation to the factual reality of Mr. Choudhury's case. Mr. Choudhury has argued for greater freedom, peace and cooperation for the world, but he did not commit treason or incite, nor did he illegally blaspheme the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh or any other party. Indeed, the government took Mr. Choudhury's conduct, which is protected under Bangladesh law, such as promoting interfaith dialogue, and sought to transform it into a criminal act." Prof. Cotler noted that "the voice of dissent plays an integral role in all free and democratic societies. Mr. Choudhury is not a criminal, but a voice calling for new ideas and opinions, and his positive impact on the People's Republic of Bangladesh cannot be over-emphasized. "The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, itself, guarantees the freedoms of… 'thought and conscience, and of speech.' As stated by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, freedom of the press must include 'the ability of the press to scrutinize and report on government activity… National security is public security, not government security from informed citizens.'" Despite this legal opinion from an internationally renowned lawyer, the Bangladeshi court and government are adamantly taking the charges forward with the one and only goal of appeasing Islamists. After the general elections of December 2008, the present Grand Alliance [of Left-leaning parties led by the Awami League] came to power with a huge mandate from the people of Bangladesh because of its secular ideology and commitments to combating radical Islam. But since coming to power, there has been no sign of any actions toward combating religious extremism. Rather, like all previous governments and regimes, the present government is continuing to appease the Islamists.