A Dhaka court has sentenced a controversial newspaper editor to seven years “rigorous imprisonment” for “sedition.”
Police arrested Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury on November 29, 2003 — yes, a decade ago — at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport as he was about to fly to Tel Aviv to attend a writer’s conference.
Choudhury is the editor of the Weekly Blitz, a small magazine and website. He was accused of damaging Bangladesh’s image by criticizing Islamism in his articles.
In 2003, the Israel-based International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace invited Choudhury to present a paper at their 2003 conference, where he was reportedly slated to speak about the emergence of radical Islam in Bangladesh.
According to the Bangladeshi Daily Star, he was also accused of having alleged links with Israeli intelligence.
In 2012, he detailed his arrest and detention experience to the Times of Israel, who described him as an “unlikely pro-Israel crusader”:
“I was tortured with electric shocks. They put nails in my ear. They broke my kneecap with a hockey stick. I was interrogated for 15 days and not allowed to bathe. They told me, ‘confess you’re a Zionist spy. Otherwise, why do you support Judaism?’ I said that I’m a good Muslim, and a good Muslim must trust the Jews and Christians. And I’m proud of that.”
“Imprisoning a professional journalist because of what he wrote is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said. “This conviction violates Bangladesh’s own constitution and all international standards on media freedom.
“We urge the Bangladeshi courts to overturn this verdict and to respect the right to information. Bangladesh must not yield to pressure from radical elements who want those they wrongly brand as ‘blasphemers’ to be severely punished.”
Sohail Choudhury, brother to Shoaib, is now acting as the Weekly Blitz executive editor.
“The verdict is simply unbelievable,” he told RePRESSed. “The present government is a secular government. Even our neighbor India supports this government, as the ruling Awami League has always been secular and taken a firm stand against any kind of extremist movement by fundamentalist radicals.
“I am sure the honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh is either unaware or she has been misinterpreted. Once she is clear about the verdict, she will not only take measures to revise the verdict, but will take measures to punish those involved.” – Acting Blitz editor, Sohail Choudhury
In July 2006, Choudhury’s Dhaka-based magazine was the target of a bomb attack that RSF condemned at the time. He also received death threats.
Bangladesh is currently being rocked by demonstrations in connection with parliamentary elections held on 5 January. More than 150 people have died there in recent political violence in recent weeks. In October, RSF reported on a wave of attacks on journalists in the run-up to the election.
RSF ranks Bangladesh is 144 out of 179 countries in its 2013 press freedom index.