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Heather Robinson

Heather Robinson

Posted February 27, 2009 | 04:19 PM (EST)

Bangladeshi Journalist, Champion of Free Speech in the Muslim World, Attacked


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On Monday, a gang of thugs stormed the newspaper office of The Weekly Blitz, an independent newspaper based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and physically attacked its editor, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

Choudhury, 39, advocates normalized relations between his country and Israel, and also has worked to expose the widespread brainwashing of Bangladeshi youth into radical Islam.

Choudhury sustained injuries to his eye, shoulder and neck in last Monday's attack, which he believes was perpetrated by members of Bangladesh's ruling Awami League party.

In a phone interview from Bangladesh on Tuesday, Choudhury shared details of the attack.

I don't say these people were sent by the government, but they are members of the ruling party," he said. "They were beating me and shouting I am a Mossad agent. Many people here are anti-Israel and they were trying to capitalize on anti-Israel sentiment.


Since the new government [came to power] in January, this is the first attack on a news office.

Choudhury suggested the Bangladeshi police were not effectual in protecting him or his staff, several of whom were beaten alongside him in broad daylight. There is, he maintains, "a kind of silent cooperation from law enforcement."


"The police came but did not stop them," he said. "The police were interested in escorting us but they did not do anything to the attackers."

The attackers confiscated his laptop, which he says contained much of the material for his book, Inside Madrassa.

The book concerns widespread brainwashing of children that takes place in the madrassas of Bangladesh, which are not accountable to the government, as well as institutionalized discrimination against women in his country, he says.

This is not the first time the Bangladeshi government has tried to stifle Choudhury, who is a Sunni Muslim, for his investigative reporting and his views. In 2003, as he was attempting to travel to Israel, government agents arrested him. They incarcerated him, held him for 17 months, and tortured him.

During those 17 months, he was denied medical treatment for his glaucoma, which worsened as a result of his incarceration.

After Choudhury was imprisoned, Dr. Richard Benkin, an American human rights activist and retired college sociology professor with whom he had exchanged information online, became aware of Choudhury's plight. Benkin brought the case to the attention of his Congressman, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who pressured the Bangladeshi government to release Choudhury.

At that time, the government in Bangladesh was a center-right government. Bangladesh's present government is a left-wing government known as the Awami League that holds secularist and anti-American views. But Choudhury explains that, left or right, those in power in Bangladesh have not exhibited tolerance for free speech.

"Whether Muslim or secular, they are anti-Zionist. Because I promote relations with Israel, for me there is no mercy with them," he says.

His family also suffers.

"My wife and children are terrorized," he says. "But it is the life they have learned to live, in adversity."

As a journalist, he feels it is his duty to continue raising awareness, particularly about the mass indoctrination of children taking place in many of the schools of Bangladesh.

"The madrassas are not accountable to the government," he says. "[Children] are taught to hate the Jews and Christians ... kill them and remain good Muslims."

As of Thursday, Choudhury was in the process of healing physically, but still under threat and unable to go to his newspaper's office. He continues to publish The Weekly Blitz online from his home.

His staff is unable to go in to the office because they do not have police protection.

Benkin continues to advocate for Choudhury, and told me in a phone interview today that it is vital to raise awareness about Choudhury's plight.

Benkin has received support for Choudhury from leaders in the U.S. Congress from both sides of the aisle.

"I approached Dick Durbin and Rick Santorum around the same time--as far left and as far right as you can go--and both were equally supportive," Benkin said. "Both recognized the value in opposing this sort of human rights violation."

Benkin said U.S. citizens can reach out to their representatives in Congress and urge them to enforce House Resolution 64, which passed in 2007 by a vote of 409 to 1. That resolution called upon the government of Bangladesh to stop harassing Choudhury, and drop charges against him.

"[The current Bangladeshi government] figured they could [harass Choudhury] without anyone caring," Benkin said. "There's a new administration in Dhaka and a new one in Washington and they are trying to figure out if they can harass journalists without any consequences."