Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) voiced dismay today at the arrest of Bangladeshi magazine editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in Dhaka on 29 November as he was about to leave for Israel to take part in a symposium. He is accused of spying for Israel on the basis of the text of a speech he was to have given on the role of the media in the dialogue between Muslims and Jews. He could be charged with sedition for which the sentence could be death.
"While the international community is debating a new peace plan for the Middle East, the government of Bangladesh decides to arrest a journalist who advocates a peaceful solution to the conflict," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to foreign minister Morshed Khan, calling on him to intercede to get Choudhury released on bail.
The editor of the weekly entertainment magazine Blitz, Choudhury was detained by police at Dhaka airport as he was about to board a flight to Tel Aviv via Bangkok. A Dhaka judge has granted police permission to hold him for seven days. He is reportedly being held in Cantonment police station where secret service officers are said to be interrogating him in an attempt to get him to admit to spying for Israel.
Choudhury was recently named as head of the Bangladeshi branch of the International Forum for Literature and Culture for Peace (IFLAC), which links writers who campaign for peace. He was to have given his speech today in Tel Aviv at a symposium held by the Hebrew Writers Association.
His participation would have been a first for a Bangladeshi journalist. Bangladesh and Israel have no diplomatic relations and Bangladeshis do not have the right to travel to Israel. In his speech, Choudhury would have stressed the key role which the news media of the Muslim countries have to play in constructing peace in the Middle East.
The secret services claim that the documents found in his briefcase, especially the text of his speech and reports about the human rights situation in Bangladesh, are evidence of spying on behalf of Israel. A few hours after his arrest, police seized all the computer equipment, including printers and CD-ROMs, at the offices of his magazine and at his home.
IFLAC president Ada Aharoni told Reporters Without Borders by telephone that her organisation has no links with the Israeli authorities. She said she deeply deplored Choudhury’s arrest, which she described as an unwarranted attack on an advocate of dialogue between Muslims and Jews. IFLAC recently held a symposium that brought together Muslim and Jewish intellectuals in Turkey.