Late last month, the Dhaka home of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, publisher and editor of that country’s largest weekly newspaper, The Weekly Blitz, was broken into. Police in Dhaka have done nothing to investigate the incident.
Choudhury, who faces prosecution by his government on charges of “blasphemy, treason, and sedition”– for writing articles favorable to Israel, and for exposing the rise of radical Islam in his country — has been the victim of harassment and torture at the hands of his government since 2003.
While he does not necessarily believe the government perpetrated this recent break-in, Choudhury believes the government may be complicit.
“When my office was attacked we were sure they were government agents,” Choudhury told me. “In this latest incident we don’t know why they came or what their motives were… When police refuse to record the case and are reluctant to investigate the whole matter, as a journalist I feel there is something fishy.”
In February, 2009, members of Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League, ransacked the office of Choudhury’s newspaper, The Weekly Blitz, physically assaulted Choudhury and Weekly Blitz employee Amanur Rashid Aman, and drove them out of their office. Since then, they have been unable to enter their office, and Choudhury has needed to hire additional bodyguard protection for himself and his family.
Choudhury tells me the Bangladeshi government, initially hailed as a left-wing improvement on the previous, right-wing government, is becoming more repressive all the time. Crazy (there’s no other word) actions the Awami League government is perpetrating include arresting a journalist “for cursing the prime minister” and “digging up the bones of their political opponents,” from a cemetery, according to Choudhury.
Additionally, the Awami League is persecuting minorities and physically attacking political rivals, according to Choudhury.
Choudhury e-mailed me yesterday, “The present ‘Grand Alliance’ government has virtually turned Bangladesh into a country of no law and order. If you will read Bangladeshi newspapers, you will see, almost every day, ruling party activists are killing someone here and there. Corruption is everywhere …The government is doing everything in suffocating the voice of all political opponents. Recently in the Parliament, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and another senior lawmaker named Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim [cousin of the PM] demanded removal of the remains of the late President Ziaur Rahman [founder of Bangladesh’s main opposition party named Bangladesh Nationalist Party] from the graveyard and throwing away his remains in the river. They [the ruling party] wants to delete every existence of the political opponents in Bangladesh.”
Geez. And we thought American politics lacked civility.
In all seriousness, it sounds from Choudhury’s front-lines report like there has been a deterioration of law and order in Bangladesh. Choudhury himself has been abused and beaten so severely since 2003—by his own government—that he has sustained hearing loss. He has also lost vision after being denied his glaucoma medication during his incarceration.
He says freedom of the press is under attack by Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister, whose father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first prime minister, at one time “banned all newspapers” in that country, according to Choudhury.
He adds that a “black law” is still on the books in Bangladesh allowing government and law enforcement agencies to arrest anyone without any reason and place them on detention for an indefinite period.
When a free press is banned, corruption is not far behind. And this courageous independent journalist, who has exposed the rise of radical Islam in his traditionally moderate Muslim country, remains in the crosshairs of his own government.
His next trial date is February 18th.
More to come.
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