Sunday, May 17, 2009

Concern Mounting again for pro-Israel Muslim, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

The fact that the fight for Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has reached an impasse should lead no one to conclude that his defenders have given up. Not a week goes by when I do not receive at least one interrogatory about it; and even as I have been speaking about saving the Bangladeshi Hindus from government-tolerated discrimination, the host always begins by asking me for an update on Shoaib.

Calls and emails come from media and from average citizens wanting to know if he is all right and what they can do to help. And people still ask about boycotting Bangladeshi goods, something I have opposed to this point. And there is continued concern from governments, as well. The Australian Foreign Ministry expressed interest in meeting with me for an update on the case and to see what might be proper for it to do. In a recent letter to Australian Senator Ursula Stephens, it wrote that “The Australian Government will continue to encourage the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that Mr. Choudhury’s trial is conducted in an expeditious and transparent fashion in accordance with proper judicial process and that his human rights are respected at all times. A high ranking member of the ruling party, Stephens is close to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and has been an outspoken advocate for Shoaib Choudhury.

The Foreign Ministry’s letter points to the next phase of the international struggle for justice in this case. First focused on gaining Shoaib’s release from imprisonment and torture, we shifted after that success when several government officials admitted that the charges against him were “false…and only maintained to appease the radicals.” We exposed the truth behind the prosecution, but the former (BNP) government went forward with the case; and in doing so, decided their political need to “appease the radicals” was more important than the damage they were doing to the people of Bangladesh. Their decision has meant that every piece of legislation intended to provide tariff relief for Bangladeshi imports to the United States has been defeated. (The United States imports about 70 percent of Bangladesh’s garment exports, and has free trade agreements and other relationships with several garment exporting countries that are steadily eroding Bangladesh’s place in the US market as a result.) Several members of the Bangladeshi government were told that these consequences would follow their continued need to placate radicals, as “the American people do not intend to spend their money to support their enemies.”

Once the legal proceedings began, internationally famed human rights attorney Irwin Cotler filed an amicus curiae brief that identified almost two dozen ways in which the case violated Bangladesh’s own laws and international human rights laws. Dr. Cotler has defended such luminaries as Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, and Saad Ibrahim, as well as Shoaib Choudhury. Moreover, the proceedings have been carried out contrary to accepted principles of justice worldwide: in five and a half years since the charges were brought, the government has been unable to provide one shred of evidence to support them; on August 6, 2008, when it made a completely fictitious allegation alleged that Shoaib wrote an article entitled, “Hello Tel Aviv” for USA Today, the trial judge demanded proof of the article, or he would dismiss the case; the government never provided any, and the judge never raised the issue again. The government had one witness, the officer in charge of Shoaib’s 2003 arrest, and he has not shown up to testify for the past several court dates. There is a legal principle in civil societies world wide that “justice delayed is justice denied”; and so in any society of laws, the court would have issued a warrant for the witness to testify or dismissed the case. Bangladesh has done neither. These various illegal irregularities on the part of the Bangladeshi government, prompted one US official to suggest to me in April that “because they have no case against Shoaib, the Bangladeshis are making the legal process his punishment.”

Many people have wondered if Bangladesh’s Awami League government will break from the policies of its predecessor or continue them, making only cosmetic changes to enhance it own image. On January 12, several members of the US Congress (Republicans, Democrats, and committees that determine appropriations and trade legislation) sent a letter to the then newly elected Prime Minister. They congratulated Sheikh Hasina on her electoral victory and noted that her first step in bringing “democracy, integrity and prosperity to Bangladesh” should be “to quickly drop all charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.” “Doing so,” they noted, “will take a significant step toward restoring faith in the Bangladeshi government and removing a significant obstacle in Bangladeshi-American relations.”

It has not, which means that Bangladeshi goods will continue to be assessed higher tariffs than those of its competitors. The fact that the Awami League government has done nothing to demonstrate that it is any different from is prompting some legal experts to explore a case against Bangladesh at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. Others are looking to see if Shoaib’s persecution should exclude Bangladesh from UN peacekeeping forces.

In a meeting at the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington, Ambassador M. Humayun Kabir addressed Bangladesh’s inability to gain favorable trade status in the US by asking me, “How can you hold up aid for 150 million people because of one man?”

“How can I? How can you?” I responded. “You’re the ones prosecuting a case you have admitted to be false. You’re the ones telling the rest of the world that you place the feelings of the radicals above your own laws. All you have to do is stop it. How can I? How can you do this to your people?”

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