Tuesday, July 03, 2007


A plea from Israeli writer, Naomi Ragen

Dear Colleagues and Friends,.

My brother Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury went to court today, June 28th, filled with optimism. The Government of Bangladesh had recently sent the judge and public prosecutor who, until now, had been trying his case, to another part of the country with the result that his trial would have to begin again with a new judge and prosecutor.

We were hopeful that this might result in this judge dropping the charges against Shoaib today. Sadly, it appears that the government has only removed a judge who was hopelessly tainted by his public assertions that he would convict Shoaib regardless of the evidence that might be presented.

Today, the judge stated that he is prepared to proceed quickly, and the prosecutor was prepared with witnesses ready to testify against Shoaib.

You may recall that, in Bangladesh, there will be no jury in this trial on charges of treason, sedition and blasphemy.

Neither will Shoaib's attorneys be permitted to bring any witnesses in his defense. The only option open to the defense is to cross examine the prosecution witnesses..

In addition, the judge has the option of ending the trial and issuing a verdict after only half of the witnesses have been heard. It is safe to assume that the witnesses who can make the most convincing case against Shoaib will be heard first.

If convicted the penalty will be either death by hanging or thirty years in prison, which is, in fact, a death sentence.

This only reason for the present delay is that there is one more appeal to void the charges now pending in the Supreme Court. While the Supreme Court is on vacation, it may or may not be possible for the judge to press for a decision from a jurist in chambers rather than from the full appellate court.

Shoaib Choudhury is on trial because he urges his government to recognize the State of Israel. This is not a crime . He is on trial because of rumors originating in Saudi Arabia that he is a Mossad agent, something so patently ridiculous that no reasonable court would even consider it. Why would a secret intelligence agent publicly proclaim his support for Israel in an Islamic country? The Qur'an states that Allah/God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. His country proclaims that Shoaib's support for Israel is treason because it is in opposition to their policy and that it is blasphemous, a charge they find convenient. He is on trial because he has Jewish and Christian friends and because he publishes their articles in his newspaper.

This is not blasphemy, and it is not a crime. although some extremist Muslims would like to think that it is. He is on trial because he writes plainly about the danger of extremist madrassas teaching children as young as five to hate Jews and Israel. The majority of Bangladeshis cannot afford any other form of education for their children and are willing to send them anywhere as long as they learn to read and write. Every charge against Shoaib is false. Shoaib works tirelessly for interfaith understanding. Bangladesh considers this treason and blasphemy. He has committed no crime at all, except for his attempt to travel to Israel - a minor passport violation for which others have been assessed a fine equivalent to about US $7.00. Yes, seven. Shoaib was imprisoned, tortured and held in solitary confinement for seventeen months. His glaucoma was not treated, and he lost his sight in one eye. During that time, he was never tried. He was released only because of the efforts of his dearest friend and brother in the United States, Richard Benkin and a U.S. Congressman, but without the charges being dropped. Please note that Shoaib takes no public position on matters of Israeli policy. We will begin again. We will not give in to defeatism or despair. There is a new U.S. Ambassador in Dhaka who has scarcely had time to unpack. We cannot give him the luxury of easing into his responsibilities.

Please call your Senators and your Representative in Congress. Tell them this is an urgent human rights concern, a matter of life and death. Remind them that the House of Representatives passed Resolution #64 in support of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in March of this year by a vote of 409-1. Urge them to call the State Department now. We want our ambassador to Bangladesh to take this to the highest level of government there. The time is past for lower level diplomats to make ineffective gestures supporting Shoaib. These have been appreciated, but they are not enough. we have less than three weeks to save Shoaib's life.

Yes, this is a worst case scenario. There may be further legal delays, but it is equally possible that there may not be. What is absolutely clear is that this new judge and prosecutor are fully prepared to hear the case against Shoaib quickly. In Bangladesh, this is never a good sign.

We must proceed as if the worst will happen, because it is very possible, and then pray that it does not.

Please forward this to others who might contact senators and Representatives. those of you who are clergy, please speak to your congregatons and ask your members to call Congress.

ditional information about Shoaib may be found at http://www.interfaithstrength.com/.

Please let me know what you are doing to help Shoiab. when you call Congress, please tell me who you reach and what you have accomplished. Please do not give in to frustration. It is often difficult to reach our public servants.

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Naomi Ragen.

And in Australia you can contact your Senator here - http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/senators/index.html.

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