A Muslim journalist who spent 17 months behind bars in Bangladesh, accused of spying for Israel, has been released on bail.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury – who was jailed after publishing articles that urged his nation of Bangladesh to recognize Israel, advocated interfaith dialogue and condemned terrorism and radical Islam – was freed Saturday.

As WorldNetDaily reported, Choudhury’s family claimed his only “crime” was daring to push for more understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Throughout 2003, Choudhury, the editor of the weekly entertainment magazine “Blitz,” published articles calling on Bangladesh to recognize Israel as well as condemning terrorism and what he sees as bias in the press against Israel and Jews. He also helped publish pro-Israeli articles by an American Jew, sparking the beginnings of debate in the Bangladeshi press and in the halls of government.

On Nov. 29, 2003, as he prepared to board a plane for Bangkok on his way to Tel Aviv to give an address on the role of the media in creating peace, Choudhury was taken by police and held overnight. The next day, a magistrate ordered him remanded for “questioning.” The pending charge: espionage, spying for “the interests of Israel against the interests of Bangladesh.” Shortly thereafter, his press offices and home were raided, and police seized his computers, disks and other files.

Eventually, Choudhury was charged with sedition, a capital offense, though the government admitted in its own investigation that there was no real evidence for the charge, says Richard Benkin, Ph.D., who has been involved in efforts to free the journalist.

Things started to change for Choudhury, Benkin says, early in April when Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., got involved, calling a meeting between himself, Benkin and new Bangladeshi Ambassador Shamsher Chowdhury. Benkin says Chowdhury was receptive to Kirk’s plea for Choudhury and promised to press the matter with his government.

“The ambassador proved to be a man of his word,” Benkin said in a statement. “Soon thereafter, Choudhury began receiving the needed health care previously denied him; and only three weeks after the meeting, he was freed. It was accomplished within the framework of Bangladeshi law and involved efforts by several high government officials.”

Speaking with Benkin shortly after his release, Choudhury said, “My 17 months in prison will have been worth it” if the government of Bangladesh helps return that nation to principles of tolerance and democracy.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says political interests, including fundamentalist groups, are pressuring the court to revoke Choudhury’s bail, and says he feels under threat from extremist organizations.

“While we are relieved that our colleague Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury finally received bail after 17 long months, we remain deeply concerned about the trumped-up charges he faces and we call on authorities to drop this case against him immediately,” Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement.

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