A Muslim journalist in Bangladesh has been imprisoned by the government for allegedly spying for Israel, while his supporters and family say his only “crime” is daring to advocate for more understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

“It is already more than 90 days that I have been detained [for] working for world peace,” wrote Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury from prison recently.

Choudhury says the government is also punishing him because he has urged officials to establish ties between Bangladesh and Israel.

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, 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.

Richard Benkin, Ph.D., a former sociology professor who has written extensively on Israel and Jewish history, chairs the international effort to free Choudhury.

Benkin blames Islamic fundamentalists for Choudhury’s fate and says the editor’s writings were just too controversial for the government to tolerate.

Said Benkin, “Before his arrest, Choudhury’s own writings and a growing number by other authors were beginning to spark something of a debate about the Middle East and the role that Bangladesh and other non-Arab Muslim nations might play. And that dialogue was spreading to other papers, as well.”

According to Benkin, Choudhury claims his own brother-in-law worked with police to prevent his trip and fabricate espionage charges against him, secretly copying Choudhury’s personal documents and then passing them to the government.

Benkin says a “public vilification program” ensued. Through selective government leaks, innuendo and outright falsehoods, he claims, Choudhury was accused at different times of being a Mossad agent and a Muslim fundamentalist, a homosexual and a womanizer, a committed Zionist and an opportunist seeking personal gain. His family has been threatened and continually receives pressure to renounce him and his stance, Benkin says. His brother and principal spokesman, Sohail Choudhury, has been attacked and twice had to flee the capital city of Dhaka. The police refused to record the attacks and reportedly chastised the Choudhurys for their “alliance with the Jews.”

“It is easy to defame anyone here just by accusation and rumor by saying he is part of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy or an Israeli spy,” Sohail Choudhury said.

Benkin explained to WND Bangladeshi Muslims are known for their tolerance, something Choudhury featured prominently in the speech he intended to give in Israel. He notes, for example, the thriving Christian community outside the capital. But Bangladesh’s growing Islamist movement vowed to stop Choudhury, Benkin explained, to prevent any dialogue with Jews.

Calling those opposing him “radicals and fundamentalists,” Choudhury says his enemies “wish to create more Laden, Saddam or Arafat in this world and see more blood!”

Choudhury communicates with Benkin through his brother Sohail. He signs his letters: “Shalom & Salaam.”

“Sometimes, I am afraid if the radical forces will too lead me to the fate of late [Wall Street Journal reporter] Daniel Pearl,” the prisoner wrote recently. “But whatever pain I am facing, in any worst situation, please note that my mission for establishment for peace will never end. Rather, the confinement and agonies are making me much determined to my mission.”

Choudhury was brought to court more than half a dozen times and after each time was returned to prison for “interrogation” with no formal charges filed. He was expected to be released Jan. 15. The presiding magistrate ruled that there were no serious charges pending, but returned him to prison anyway because the case was “too sensitive” to allow his release.

A few days later, Choudhury was charged with sedition, a capital offense. Benkin says his attorney expects Bangladesh’s High Court to drop the charges, but it has not yet scheduled his case.

Meanwhile, the journalist sits in a hot, unventilated cell under “deplorable” conditions. Benkin says he has been refused badly needed – and court-ordered – medical treatment and forced to sign statements “that I am in good condition. … It is a terrible life,” Choudhury said.

Benkin says Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has tried to help Choudhury and that the State Department says it only is “observing the situation.” There is also an online petition on Choudhury’s behalf that asks “all free governments” to work for his release.

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