Sunday, October 29, 2006

Good news & bad news from Bangladesh - Mohammad Yunus & Salah Choudhury

A recent letter to the Washington Post from a reader, Roberta Dzubow, brought out a painful contrast.
The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh [see here & here --JW] is well deserved.

Mr. Yunus began his program by giving small loans to Bangladeshi women. The women used the seed money wisely, thrived and repaid their loans. It should be especially significant in Muslim countries, where women are usually undervalued and oppressed, that over 97 percent of the 6.6 million loans made during the past 30 years have been to women.

However, as Bangladesh basks in the glow of Mr. Yunus's award, the spotlight of shame should also be on it. The Bangladeshi government arrested and tortured journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and now threatens him with death. [....]
Ami Isseroff (of MidEastWeb), who has paid close attention to Choudhury's case, sent a follow-up letter to the Washington Post that powerfully drives this point home. It's worth putting in boldface: Choudhury "faces the death penalty for advancing the cause of moderation. Unless his case gets significant support from abroad he may well die."
Dear editor,

I would like to call your attention to the plight of Bangladesh journalist Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhury, who is on trial for "sedition" in Bangladesh. As noted by a Washington Post reader [here], Choudhury's "crime" was that he wanted Bangladesh to open diplomatic relations with Israel and he spoke out against Islamist extremists. These are policies of the US government. Sedition carries the death penalty in Bangladesh. The offices of his journal have been ransacked and he and members of his staff have been beaten.

This man faces the death penalty for advancing the cause of moderation. Unless his case gets significant support from abroad he may well die. Meanwhile, he has suffered a three-year Kafkaesque nightmare of judicial harassment. Yet most major US newspapers have not written about his plight. For the most part he has been ignored by the US State Department, by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, though RSF and PEN have tried to help him.

I call on the Washington Post to bring this case to the attention of the American public.

Thank you,
Ami Isseroff )
I reproduce this letter with permission from Ami Isseroff, who added a personal note via e-mail:
I searched Google for news of Salah's trial. I found nothing from major journals in the US. Only right-wing periodicals and Jewish specialty journals and the Jerusalem Post in Israel seem interested in the case. I found a lone entry for the Washington Post, which turned out to be a reader comment. The silence is deafening. That is what triggered my letter the Washington Post. [my bolding --JW]
=> This widespread indifference (with just a few honorable exceptions) is indeed shocking and alarming. Choudhury's case is one that should concern all of us. As I said in a recent post, Freedom of the press under attack - Bangladeshi journalist Salah Choudhury faces the death penalty:
This is not just a tale of woe, but also a call to action.Over the past decade there have been several significant cases involving the persecution, arrest, and/or or prosecution of writers and intellectuals where international attention has helped to avert, or at least moderate, unjust and repressive outcomes. [....] International response to these cases, and international solidarity with the victims, are obviously very important to help preserve some space for freedom of expression and to encourage possibilities for political liberty and political sanity.

The case of the outspoken Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, now on trial facing a trumped-up charge of treason with a possible death penalty, is another important challenge of this sort. [....] He has faced years of persecution, including physical attacks and death threats as well as criminal prosecution, for his 'crimes' of criticizing Islamist radicalism and advocating reconciliation with Christians, Jews, and Israel. [....]

Choudhury was awarded the PEN-USA Freedom to Write Award in 2005, and his cause has been taken up by Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. Their statement of October 10 [here] urges that everyone committed to freedom of expression should:
Send appeals to authorities:
- expressing serious concerns for the safety of journalist Salah Uddin Choudhury
- calling for him to be provided with immediate and effective police protection
- protesting the charges against Choudhury and calling for them to be dropped in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights [....]
However, this case is still not getting nearly the attention that it deserves. It seems to me that Choudhury's cause is one that all people who support the principles of political and intellectual freedom and who would like to defend possibilities for democracy, political sanity, and constructive international dialogue should be especially interested in taking up. And the reasons go beyond the obvious threat to freedom of the press and free expression that this case represents, though these should be sufficient. Journalists in the Muslim world who are willing to stick their necks out to take positions like Choudhury's are not entirely non-existent, but they're not very numerous either, and they take especially great risks when they do this. If they're going to get their necks cut off for it, then all of us will be losers. They deserve strong and principled support. [.....]

Therefore, along with International PEN and others, I strongly urge people to spread the word about this case and to write to the Bangladeshi government expressing their concern. [....]

For further information and some relevant addresses, see HERE.

Yours for freedom of expression and democratic solidarity,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. During an earlier stage of Choudhury's ordeal, in 2003, the New York Times published a strong editorial supporting him ("The Risks of Journalism in Bangladesh"). In 2006, for some reason, the NYTimes seems to have fallen silent about this matter, but what they said in 2003 is still very much on target.