Bangladesh Embarks on a Worrisome Path

This week I appealed to the president of Bangladesh on behalf of a Muslim journalist on trial for sedition.  Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has faced persecution by the government, by radical Islamist groups, and by unidentified thugs on the street because he warned against the rise of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh and for advocating interfaith dialogue, including recognition of Israel.

In a letter to President Iajuddin Ahmed, I said Choudhury’s trial makes a mockery of any notion that Bangladesh is a tolerant society or one in which freedom of expression is accorded any value whatsoever.  It also raises a very serious question as to whether Bangladesh is a peace-loving nation.

Bangladesh may not want to recognize Israel; that is its sovereign choice, if a poor one. But it is shameful that a citizen can be threatened with death simply for suggesting that his nation live at peace with Israel or for wishing to visit Israel.
I urged President Ahmed to use his power under Article 49 of the country's constitution -- the "Prerogative of Mercy" -- to counteract any court ruling against Choudhury.

Like other journalists in Bangladesh of late, Choudhury has endured death threats and attacks for his writings.  The headquarters of his newspaper were recently bombed.  His case has raised alarm and support among human rights groups such as International PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Choudhury’s suffering has already dragged on for three years, dating to his arrest at the airport in Dhaka as he was about to head to Israel for a writers' conference.  He was kept in solitary confinement for 17 months, enduring torture and deplorable conditions, until charges that had been brought against him for espionage were dropped.

If he is now convicted and sentenced for sedition, the International Relations Committee will conduct hearings into the relationship between the United States and Bangladesh.  Among other matters, the committee's jurisdiction includes foreign aid.