BANGLADESH: Serious concerns for the safety of journalist Salah Uddin

The Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN is seriously concerned for the safety of journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Chaudhury, who was reportedly attacked by a group of about 30 men at the offices of his newspaper on 5 October 2006.

His attackers are thought to have included leading members of the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP). Chaudhury was reportedly badly beaten in the attack, and around 400,000 Taka ($US 4000) and several cell phones were taken from the Blitz office.

Chaudhury faces sedition charges for his perceived association with Israel and his criticism of the spread of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh in his writings, and his trial is due to start on 12 October 2006. 

English PEN calls upon the Bangladeshi authorities to provide Chaudhury with effective police protection immediately. PEN protests the charges against journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Chaudhury, and urges that they are dropped in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to PEN’s information, Salah Uddin Shoaib Chaudhury, editor of the tabloid weekly Blitz, was arrested by security personnel at Zia International Airport, Dhaka, on 29 November 2003 whilst en route for Israel to participate in a conference with the Hebrew Writers Association.

Chaudhury was planning to address a writers’ symposium in Tel Aviv entitled “Bridges Through Culture”, and was scheduled to speak about “the role of media in establishing peace”. Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel and travel to Israel is illegal for Bangladeshi citizens.

Intelligence forces claim that documents found in Chaudhury’s briefcase in particular the text of his speech and reports on the human rights situation in Bangladesh provide evidence to support the charges against him. He is accused of having links to an Israeli intelligence agency and is said to have been under surveillance for several months.

Choudhury is known for his work to improve relations between Muslim countries and Israel, and has written articles against anti-Israeli attitudes in Muslim countries and about the rise of al-Qaeda in Bangladesh which had reportedly sparked debate in the Bangladeshi press and government prior to his arrest.

The charge carries a maximuim penalty of death or thirty years imprisonment. Choudhury was repeatedly denied a bail hearing before being released on bail on 2 May 2005 following appeals by PEN USA, of whom he is an honorary member.

Chaudhury reportedly received a death threat on 26 February 2006 from a militant Islamist leader for his writings, and the offices of his newspaper were bombed in July 2006.

English PEN continues to be alarmed at the ongoing pattern of violence against journalists in Bangladesh, who are frequently threatened and attacked with apparent impunity solely for the practice of their profession (see previous alerts).

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