Saturday, December 09, 2006

Irwin Cotler defends Salah Choudhury (Statement to the Canadian Parliament)

The Canadian Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General during the last Liberal government, is a heroic figure of international human rights law. As his Wikipedia mini-bio sums up this dimension of his career:
Dr. Irwin Cotler has served on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and its sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development, as well as on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In 2000, Dr. Cotler was appointed special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the International Criminal Court.

Dr. Irwin Cotler is considered an expert on international law and human rights law. As an international human rights lawyer, Cotler served as counsel to former prisoners of conscience Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Jacobo Timerman in Latin America, Muchtar Pakpahan in Asia, as well as other well known political prisoners and dissidents. Cotler represented Natan Sharansky, who was imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for Jewish activism. After his release, Sharansky went on to become Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Saad Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist imprisoned by the Egyptian government, was represented by Cotler and acquitted in 2003. He acted as counsel to Maher Arar during part of Arar's imprisonment and supported demands for a public inquiry. He has also defended both Palestinians and Israelis against their own governments, and participated in a minor role in the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

In 1986 he was chief counsel to the Canadian Jewish Congress at the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals.
Cotler has now undertaken to defend the Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury (see also here & here & here & here & here). Choudhury 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. He is now on trial facing a trumped-up charge of treason with a possible death penalty.

On December 7, 2006 Cotler made this statement to the Canadian Parliament about Choudhury and his case.
House of Commons (Parliament of Canada) - December 7, 2006

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim Bangladesh journalist and editor of a daily
Bangladesh publication, is standing trial on charges of treason, sedition and blasphemy for promoting Muslim, Christian and Jewish dialogue, peace with Israel and seeking to attend a conference in Israel for the promotion of peace.

Mr. Choudhury has also been personally beaten, his life threatened and his office vandalized while none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice and a former
home minister has indicated that there is no basis for the charges.

As counsel for Mr. Choudhury and as one who, while as minister of justice, was engaged in a joint Canada-Bangladesh rule of law project, I call upon the Bangladesh authorities to respect the rule of law, to review and, as appears just and appropriate, to drop the charges while working to apprehend those who have violated Mr. Choudhury's rights.
L'hon. Irwin Cotler (Mont-Royal, Lib.):

Monsieur le Président, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, un musulman, journaliste et rédacteur en chef d'un quotidien au Bangladesh, est accusé de trahison, de sédition et de blasphème pour avoir fait la promotion d'un rapprochement entre les musulmans, les chrétiens et les juifs, pour avoir prôné la paix avec Israël, et pour avoir tenté d'assister, en Israël, à une conférence sur la paix.

M. Choudhury a également été battu, sa vie a été menacée et son bureau a été vandalisé sans qu'aucun des auteurs de ces actes ne soit traduit en justice. De plus, un ancien ministre de l'Intérieur du
Bangladesh a déclaré qu'il n'y avait aucun motif d'accusation.

Étant avocat de M. Choudhury et, lorsque j'étais ministre de la Justice, ayant participé à un projet canado-bangladais sur la primauté du droit, j'exhorte les autorités bangladaises à reconnaître la primauté du droit, à réexaminer et, ce qui semble juste et indiqué en l'occurrence, à retirer les accusations pesant contre M. Choudhury, tout en tentant d'appréhender ceux qui ont porté atteinte à ses droits.


=> Along with the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN and others, I once again strongly urge people to spread the word about this case and to write to the Bangladeshi govenment, officials of their own government, and/or human rights organizations expressing their concern. (For some details, see here.)

This case is still not getting nearly the attention that it deserves. Do we believe in freedom of expression or don't we? If we do, then as Eric Alterman put it back in October, "how about a little noise about Salah Choudhury?"

--Jeff Weintraub

(P.S. Of course, given the present condition of public discourse on such matters, the first and only thing that some people will notice is that Cotler is Jewish and a Zionist--that is, he supports Israel's right to exist--and for some people this is enough to be a thought-stopper. Yes, it is well known that the promotion of "human rights and democracy " is all part of a Jewish plot, as the esteemed statesman Mahathir Mohamad, the former long-time Prime Minister of Malaysia, famously pointed out a few years ago. But if that's right, then I must confess that I don't see this as much cause for embarrassment.)