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Heather Robinson

Heather Robinson

Posted: May 17, 2010 06:47 PM

Independent Journalist, Under Attack, Gets Mixed Signals from the U.S.

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Since 2003, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a pioneering Bangladeshi journalist who has exposed the rise of radical Islam in his country and promoted good relations between Bangladesh and Israel, has been harassed by his own government.

In the years since then, the United States government, led by Congressman Mirk Kirk (R-Ill) succeeded in pressing the government of Bangladesh to release Choudhury after 18 months of imprisonment and torture. However, following his release, the Bangladeshi government--which has changed leadership from a right- to left-wing government, the Awami League, has pursued a case against Choudhury, accusing him of blasphemy, sedition and treason.

His crimes?

Daring to attempt to visit Israel, to expose the rise of radical Islam in his traditionally moderate Muslim country, and promoting relations between Bangladesh and the Jewish state.

Recently the U.S. State Department released its Annual Report on the state of human rights in almost 200 countries. In that report, the State Department made prominent mention of Choudhury's case, classifying him as a dissident and signaling the U.S.'s commitment to monitoring treatment of this rare champion of free speech in the Muslim world.

However Choudhury, via e-mail from Dhaka, tells me that the government of Bangladesh continues to harass him, using tactics such as summoning him to trial and making him stand for entire days in rooms without air conditioning, only to dismiss him when no "witnesses" show up for the trial.

Most troubling, Choudhury says that, since the election of President Obama, the U.S. Embassy has stopped monitoring his case.

"Though there is a statement in the State Department's report...the U.S. Embassy has stopped monitoring my case since Mr. Obama became the President," he writes.

Such an absence of monitoring is especially significant and troubling in a case such as this, because in the past, the Bangladeshi government has arrested, incarcerated, and even tortured Choudhury when the powers that be felt they could get away with it, according to Dr. Richard Benkin, an American human rights activist who helped to secure Choudhury's release from prison in 2004.

"In almost seven years since [he] was arrested, the Bangladeshi government has not brought forward one scintilla of credible evidence against this journalist; and its sole 'witness' continues to not show up," Benkin says. "Sheikh Hasina's Awami League government was supposed to represent a break from Bangladesh's unfortunate past, but in the field of human rights it has been a decided step backward. In addition to Shoaib Choudhury, about 15 million minorities, most of them Hindu, face daily and brutal persecution that Bangladesh's government tolerates."