SPME is recirculating this petition from last year as Mr. Choudhury's trial has begun with the prosecution asking for the death penalty under Bangladeshi Fundamentalist Islamic law.
Advocates for freedom of speech and freedom of the press and of interfaith dialogue and human rights must join academics and others of good will by signing and circulating this petition immediately. Many thanks.
PEN USA gave him their Freedom to Write Award in 2005 in recognition of his commitment towards courageous journalism and confronting extreme adversities
Choudhury is facing these charges for taking strong public and professional stands against the radical Islamists who are quietly taking over the world's third largest Muslim-majority country, against the oppression of religious minorities and others there, and for positive relations between Muslims and Jews. His one formal violation of Bangladesh regulations was his attempt to visit Israel in 2003 to attend a conference of the Hebrew Writers' Association. The applicable act allows Bangladeshis to travel to all countries in the world except Israel. The penalty for such violation is a 500 Taka (less than $8). On November 29, he was taken into police custody and, as he tells it, blindfolded, beaten and interrogated for 10 days in an attempt to extract a confession that he was spying for Israel. He spent the next 17 months in solitary confinement, and was denied medical treatment for his glaucoma . Only after an international campaign and the personal intervention of U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk did the Bangladesh govenment release Choudhury on bail. At the same time, the Bangladesh government promised to drop all charges against him after admitting that there was no substance to them.
In July, a mob stormed the premises of Choudhury's tabloid and beat him, fracturing his ankle.When Choudhury lodged a complaint with the police, the government responded by issuing a warrant for his arrest. That summer, a bomb was also set off Weekly Blitz offices and although government officials admitted knowing the perpetrators led by Mufti Noor Hussain Noorani, self-proclaimed bigot and head of the radical Khatmey Nabuat Movement, no arrests were ever made.
In September, a judge affiliated with a radical faction ordered the case continued, in spite of the government's reluctance to prosecute, proclaiming that "by praising Christians and Jews," Choudhury had "hurt the sentiments of Muslims." The United States, European Union, and other democratic nations have sent observer to his trial. Government witnesses have refused to show in court, the court has violated Bangaldeshi legal procedure, and the prosecution has yet to provide a scintilla of credible evidence to support the capital charge. The new government in Dhaka has promised several American officials and others that they will have the case dropped. Yet, on February 28, 2007, the radical judge brazenly ordered the trial to proceed.
Resolutions in support of Choudhury and demands that the charges be dropped have been passed in the European and Australian Parliaments. A similar resolution passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously and is scheduled to come before the full House this month where it is expected to pass without opposition.
Noted international Human Rights attorney, Irwin Cotler, whose clients have included Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov, has identified eight violations on Bangladesh's own law in Choudhury's prosecution. The only way to restore the integrity of Bangladesh is to end this persecution now. In the name of justice, freedom of speech, freedom of passage and of human rights, we join with governments, human rights advocates and other scholars worldwide and ask that this injustice be immediately halted and that all charges against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury be dropped.
We urge each of you who sign this petition and even those of you who don't to circulate it amongst your colleagues and friends to help us reach 10,000 names by April 1, 2007. Thank you from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East www.spme.net
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