I want to clarify three things about Shoaib Choudhury and then I’ll drop the subject on this blog.
First, you proclaimed that, by definition, Shoaib is/was an Islamist because he worked for one year at Inqilab. I wasn’t acquainted with him at the time, so I asked him about that employment. He told me that many people with families to support will take employment in places the might not otherwise choose. He took the position, even though he was aware of their Islamist religious beliefs and politics, and got out of there as soon as he was able. He was never in agreement with their policies while he was employed there.
Second, the internet has made this a very small world. Shoaib’s newspaper, Weekly Blitz, is read in many Arab countries where the ruling powers need to discredit him when he writes favorably about Israel and interfaith understanding and when he writes unfavorable about radical Islam which is becoming more and more prevelant in Bangladesh. Saudi Arabia is the primary perpetrator of the smear tactics against him. Their government, often speaking through their embassies abroad, have also been involved in this effort. Their most egregrious charge is that he is an Israeli espionage agent. If you think about this, espionage agents do their work covertly. They don’t go out and publish newspapers supporting the country they are supposedly working for. This is a baseless and malicious charge emanating from Saudi Arabia.
And finally, there is no hope for due process for Shoaib Choudhury or for anyone else in Bangladesh. In their legal system the accused individual is not permitted to bring defense witnesses or evidence in his or her defense. The only think a defense attorney can do is to cross-examine the witnesses for the prosecution. And, there is no jury. A judge makes a unilateral decision after the witnesses have been heard, but all the witnesses are there to condemn him. In Shoaib Choudhury’s case, the judge made a written statement that he sees no reason to acquit him long before a single witness was heard. So, there is no such thing as due process in Bangladesh. If there were, I would agree with the many writers here who have called for it.
I would like to suggest that your readers spend some time reading Shoaib’s newspaper online to think about it for themselves. www.weeklyblitz.net
Shoaib returns to court this Thursday, March 8th.
I want to thank you for allowing me to defend him. It is the only placewhere that will happen.
Rabbi Sue Levy
Houston, Texas, USA
My response is below:
Dear Rabbi Levi,
Thank you again for your email. I wanted to respond to the three issues you raised in your email.
You stated in your email that Mr. Choudhury took the job at the Islamist daily, Inqilab, because he needed to support his family. You further stated that he did not support their policies while he worked there. I should point out that Mr. Choudhury was also the managing director of Inqilab Television, the would-be on-air mouthpiece of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party. According to Mr. Choudhury’s own words, he was a 30% owner of Inqilab Television and had a $1 million stake in the venture. Clearly, he was aware that Inqilab Television, the namesake of the newspaper, was also an Islamist mouthpiece when he became managing director and a 30% owner of the venture. It stretches credulity to suggest that he took the job at Inqilab newspaper simply to support his family, yet had $1 million to invest in the Islamist television venture. Mr. Choudhury clearly was a major partner in the Islamist venture according to his own words. A person usually does not invest $1 million in an Islamist mouthpiece if that person does not subscribe to its politics.
You also stated that Saudi Arabia is the "primary perpetrator of the smear tactics against him". In your previous email you had also made similar allegations, without citing any sources, against the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington – I am glad to see that you have not repeated that allegation. First, I would ask you once again to provide some proof of your allegations. Please provide some credible news account of the Saudi involvement that you claim. Second, I should point out that if indeed Saudi Arabia is orchestrating a smear campaign, as you allege, they are clearly doing a very poor job. A simple Google search on Mr. Choudhury will show that almost every single article that is returned is written by Dr. Benkin or others connected with him. All these articles portray falsely that Mr. Choudhury is a moderate Muslim who is being persecuted for his attempts at inter-faith dialogue – it is the same story repeated over and over again by the same people. If the Saudis are trying to influence the debate, they are doing a very poor job indeed. On the contrary, the picture that clearly emerges is an orchestrated campaign by Mr. Choudhury’s friends to portray Mr. Choudhury as a martyr, unfairly tar Bangladesh’s image to an uninformed reader, and leave the impression that Mr. Choudhury is being persecuted when in fact he is out on bail, enjoys the freedom to publish and express himself freely, and is being accorded due process. It is also no accident that these friends of Mr. Choudhury all seem to be connected to the Islam-Israel Fellowship, a group who advocates the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Finally, you stated in your email that "there is no hope for due process for Shoaib Choudhury or for anyone else in Bangladesh." You also claimed "In their legal system the accused individual is not permitted to bring defense witnesses or evidence in his or her defense. The only think a defense attorney can do is to cross-examine the witnesses for the prosecution." I am afraid that you are grossly misinformed about the Bangladesh legal system. I fear that those who have explained the Bangladesh legal system to you have either intentionally or unintentionally misled you.
I should tell you that my wife was a practicing criminal defense lawyer in Bangladesh before we were married. She and her law partners have brought many defense witnesses into court during the course of legal proceedings. Any suggestion that the defense is not permitted to bring their own witnesses is patently false. You also mentioned that there is no jury system in Bangladesh. While it is true that there is no jury system in Bangladesh, it is not unusual in the world not to have a jury system. In fact, the world’s largest democracy, India, does not have a jury system. Japan did not have a jury system until 2004. The majority of criminal cases in England are heard without a jury. There are pros and cons to a jury system, but to suggest that judicial systems such as Bangladesh that do not have a jury system are devoid of due process is simply uninformed.
The Bangladeshi judicial system has a long and rich history – it is based primarily on British law and to a lesser extent, Islamic and Hindu legal systems that predated the advent of the British system. The Bangladesh Constitution grants the writ of habeas corpus, something that Alberto Gonzales has claimed the United States Constitution does not do. The Bangladesh Constitution, in articles 26 to 47, guarantees the right to hear charges against the accused, the right to challenge one’s detention, equal protection under the law, and the fundamental rights to speech, thought, conscience, religion, assembly, movement, and association, among other enumerated rights. Any suggestion that Mr. Choudhury will not be accorded due process flies in the face of Bangladeshi law and the history of criminal proceedings in Bangladesh. It is worth noting again that Mr. Choudhury is out on bail while continuing to publish in Bangladesh.
The Bangladeshi courts have often ruled against the government. They have also convicted some very high profile Islamist extremists as recently as last year. All those convicted of a death penalty offence have a right to automatic appeal all the way up to the Bangladesh Supreme Court. Bangladesh is not known for summary executions or of quick dispensation of death penalty cases. The individuals who assassinated the Bangladeshi Prime Minister in 1975 were tried and convicted (three were acquitted) and sentenced to death after a long trial that ended in 2001. The trial was universally hailed as fair. The sentences of those convicted are yet to be carried out while the convicted pursue their legal rights to appeal in the Bangladeshi courts. So your uninformed assertion that "there is no such thing as due process in Bangladesh" is without merit and patently false.
To conclude, I should debunk the claim that somehow Mr. Choudhury is being targeted for speaking out against Islamist extremists and the government. It might interest you to know that the Bangladeshi press has been quite vocal in speaking out against extremists. To suggest the Mr. Choudhury is somehow a lone "moderate" amongst a sea of extremists is simply ludicrous and false. As an example, consider this article from 2004 in The Daily Star that criticizes the government as well as the Islamist extremists; or this article from 2005 exposing Jamaat-e-Islami’s links to militants; or this article from 2003 about Islamist militants in Bangladesh. There are countless other examples – anyone who has read a Bangladeshi newspaper will not be surprised by their independence and their invaluable service in exposing extremists whenever they can. Anyone who knows Bangladesh’s long struggle to independence understands how much Bengalis value their secular system. You and your colleagues do a disservice to the truth and to Bangladesh when you propagate misinformation about the nature of Bangladeshi society and its institutions.
I look forward to your continued visits to my blog. I also encourage you to comment on the posts and continue to engage me and my readers on this and other topics.