Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hey Sheikh Hasina, no one's forgotten Shoaib Choudhury!

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury’s struggle once played out in dramatic events: his 2003 arrest; my storming Washington’s Bangladeshi embassy in 2004; his 2005 release after a tense meeting involving Bangladesh’s ambassador, US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), and me; middle of the night battles to prevent his re-incarceration; international accolades for the Islamic world’s only “Muslim Zionist” and supportive resolutions from the US Congress and others in 2006 and 2007. But five and a half years since Shoaib’s arrest, things have settled into a Kafkaesque holding pattern with no end in sight. As one Washington insider quipped, "The Bangladeshis have made the process the punishment."

In 2003, Shoaib Choudhury broke Bangladesh's blackout on positive, or even objective news and information about Israel and the Jewish people. The ever more powerful Islamists there were already furious with him for exposing their rise to power and use of madrassas, or Muslim religious schools, to radicalize young Bangladeshis. So, for doing nothing more than his profession as a journalist, they engineered his arrest and torture, getting the government to try in vain to extract a false confession from him that he was an Israeli spy.

After 17 months, with the help of US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), I succeeded in forcing his release, but though multiple government officials have promised to drop the charges against him--charges they admit are false--the charges remain. More than one Bangladeshi official also admitted that they fear dropping the charges because they do not want to anger Islamic radicals. No less an expert than Professor Irwin Cotler--former Canadian Law Minister and attorney for luminaries like Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov--has identified over a dozen violations of Bangladeshi law in their prosecution of Shoaib Choudhury.

Yet, May 26th marked his 50th court appearance in the 49 months since his release. As usual, he was forced to wait outside for hours only to be told that his case was continued because the government’s sole witness did not show. This is draining his economic and emotional resources; the possibility of reincarnation or even execution is ever present.

His defenders have tired of waiting and are ready to do battle again--just as we forced Bangladesh's notorious RAB to release him last year after only a few tense hours. We will continue to oppose--successfully--all legislation designed to reward Bangladesh with tariff relief or other trade benefits when its government continues to play fast and loose with human rights while allowing Islamists to take over every social institution in the country. We will seek to implement Foreign Ops language that would strip Bangladesh of US aid for its defiance of international outrage and norms of civilization. And we will look to exclude Bangladesh from participating in UN Peacekeeping Missions since it cannot even keep the peace within its own borders.

To appease Islamic radicals and reward its own cronies, the Bangladesh government has continuedthis false prosecution--not so much at their own expense, but at the expense of their people. Their willful infliction of misery on their own people is contrary to what every civilized people expects of its government.

We have stood by Shoaib for five and a half years, and we have no intention of abandoning him--not now, not ever.

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