By Judi McLeod
Monday, January 8, 2007
January 22, 2007 looms very near on the New Year's calendar. That's the day Bangladesh native, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is scheduled to go on trial for his life. The pro-Israel, moderate Muslim journalist stands steadfast and alone.
Choudhury is the editor and publisher of The Weekly Blitz, an English-language newspaper in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
In 2003, the future looked bright for the 41-year-old, truth-seeking journalist. He was proudly on his way to address the Hebrew Writers Union, having gained the attention of the outside world by a series of articles promoting peace with Israel, condemnation of Muslim extremism and encouragement of interfaith cooperation.
Dreams turned to ashes when he got no further than Zia International Airport in Dhaka. The speech, advocating understanding between Muslim and Jews of which he was so proud, was never to be heard. Arrested upon his arrival at the airport, his passport was confiscated, his home and offices were raided, his money and personal effects stolen, and his computers seized.
There was no protest outside the prison where he was to linger in jail for some 17 months. During the long months of his imprisonment, his glaucoma went untreated and he was sometimes locked up with the insane, whose blood-curdling screams kept him awake through long nights.
In prison, the journalist who once had so much to look forward to, was tortured.
Going to Israel with pro-Israel opinions is a crime in Bangladesh.
How many journalists would stand up to the forces of Islamist fascist fundamentalism in a country where the fundamentalists have all but taken over?
Didn't Choudhury dare to correspond with the Jerusalem Post and reach out to befriend an American Jew, Dr. Richard Benkin, are the questions his tormentors are now asking.
To his credit, these tactics didn't frighten away Benkin, who is currently in Bangladesh working around the clock to put an end to the persecution of a young man he has come to regard as a beloved brother.
Released on bail in 2005, with senior Bangladeshi officials admitting they had no evidence against him, may have left the impression to the outside world that the persecution of Salah Uddin Shoab Choudhury has come to a merciful end.
The public prosecutor even congratulated him on his release. Superficially, everything looked like it really wasn't.
But within the past few months, his newspaper office has been bombed after he published articles supporting a Muslim minority group, and Choudhury has even been attacked and beaten by a mob--an angry mob that included members of the ruling political party.
The police have consistently refused to take action. Then late last year, a judge who is a member of a radical Islamist movement brought Choudhury up for sedition again.
All of this is taking place against a backdrop of a Bangladesh in the midst of anarchy, with extremist factions pressuring the ruling party into allowing them an increasing say in the government, and with local judges being able to exert enormous personal sway.
Worse, Bangladesh watchers are predicting that the country's January 25 elections will bring the fundamentalists even more prominence and power. It is now a very real possibility that the Islamic religious code of Sharia will become the law of the land in Bangladesh.
Here is the harsh reality for Choudhury's fate: Even if sentenced under existing Bangladeshi law, the journalist can anticipate one of only two possible options: Thirty years in prison or execution.
He is fully aware that he cannot hope for a fair trial. His only hope is to see all charges against him dropped, and soon.
And support of the outside world is absolutely critical.
Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York have introduced House Resolution 1080, calling on the Bangladeshi government to drop all charges against Choudhury, to cease the harassment campaign against him, and to bring his attackers to justice.
Americans are being asked to call or e-mail their representative in Congress and to urge him or her to sign on to Resolution 1080 immediately.
"Contact both of your senators and plead with them to sponsor a complementary resolution in the Senate--now," urges Heritage Florida Jewish News. "Bangladesh depends upon some $60 million a year in U.S. aid while its rulers pose as our government's enlightened partners in the "war on terror"--make them earn their money.
"And speaking of money, Bangladeshi factories continue to churn out endless dollars worth of clothing imported by U.S. stores: The Gap, Wal-mart, Nike. Let these retailers know that you have urgent concerns about their trading partner. The Bangladesh garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association is one of the most powerful organizations in that country, and controls millions of its jobs."
Or as the crusading Dr. Benkin so aptly puts it, "If we can't count on people's good intentions, we can count on their business sense."
Choudhury, whose father taught him as a trusting child not to believe in the vicious lies about Jews and Christians, stares through his glasses straight into the face of modern fascism and stands his ground. His family shows a brave face of support. His wife, "Happy", his 16-year-old daughter and his 7-year-old, comic book-loving son are the same as other loving families the world over.
Far away from Bangladesh, Lyn Payne, Associate Editor at Heritage Florida News, deserves credit for taking a strong stand to save Choudhury's life.
"Speak out for him, pray for him, fill every Congressional office and pulpit and talk show and editorial page with outrage on his behalf," writes Payne. "He is our brother, and we cannot stand idly by while tyrants spill his blood upon the ground.
"Every one of us must step forward to say, "Hineni". If not us, who? If not now, when? January 23 may be too late."
God bless the singularly courageous Salah Uddin Shoaib Chodhury on January 22, 2007.