Mar. 19, 2005 23:31 | Updated Mar. 19, 2005 23:43
Alleged Israeli spy denied bail
By ORLY HALPERN
A Bangladeshi man who advocates dialogue between Jews and Muslims and is jailed for allegedly spying for Israel was refused bail last week, his brother told The Jerusalem Post in a phone conversation from Dhaka.
A Bangladeshi judge on Monday ordered security services to file charges by April 2 and prove that Shoaib Choudhury is a spy, said his brother Sohail who attended the court proceedings.
"We tried to get him out on bail but the High Court said nothing can be done while the matter is under investigation," said Sohail, who attended the court proceedings.
Shoaib, a journalist who strongly condemned terrorism and the media bias against Israel and Jews, and once wrote an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post, was arrested in November 2003 when he was about to board a plane to travel to Israel to participate in a symposium.
"This is a terrible mistake," said Dr. Ada Aharoni, a Nobel Prize nominee who lives in Haifa and was in contact with Shoaib. "He is really an innocent person. He just wanted to come to our symposium, for bridges of peace and understanding through culture and literature. To accuse him of spying and to hold him in prison for such a long time is a great tragedy."
Sohail Choudhury said the 16-month investigation has provided no evidence against his brother. "The only thing they can say is that Bangladesh does not have a diplomatic relationship with Israel," he said. He believes that the charges are trumped up. "Why would Israel need an agent in Bangladesh? Anyway, anyone can get any secret government document here with money."
The jailed 38-year-old journalist published and edited Blitz, an entertainment newspaper in which he "wrote emphatically about the need for dialogue and understanding among Jews, Muslims and Christians," said a Web site set up in his name.
Living up to this creed, Shoaib Choudhury agreed to open a Bangladesh office of the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace, an interfaith non-governmental organization. He published his country's first interview with an Israeli, the subject of the interview being Nobel nominee Dr. Aharoni.
He was also in contact with Dr. Richard Benkin, an American Jew and Zionist activist, who he helped publish in Bangladesh. According to Benkin, their articles sparked the beginnings of debate in the Bangladeshi press and in the halls of government.
Aharoni and Benkin are named as his contacts for spying purposes, said Shoaib's brother.
"Well, if I'm Mossad, the Mossad is in big trouble," Benkin, a resident of Chicago, told the Post by e-mail. "The notion is so ridiculous â€“ it reveals the paucity of any real evidence against Shoaib, as well as the sorry state of information about Israel."
Sohail says that the Bangladeshi government "wants to harass Shoaib and try to give him as much trouble to him as possible," because his brother was working to obtain Bangladeshi recognition of Israel. "That was his campaign," said Sohail. "But in Bangladesh there are Islamic parties in the government that won't accept this."
Shoaib's imprisonment has not only harmed him but the whole family, said Sohail. He said that Shoaib had been tortured in jail, causing him to lose sight in one eye, and he believes the whole issue led to their mother's death from a heart attack last August. "It was Shoaib's arrest. It took us all by surprise."
Sohail now lives with Shoaib's family and is taking care of his brother's two children. The trading company they ran together was closed and their computers were taken by the police, he said.
Despite his brother's ordeal, Sohail, speaks openly of the views his brother espoused about peace with Israel and the Jews. When asked if he is afraid Sohail said, "I'm worried," adding that he had been beaten twice and had been forced to flee Dhaka.
"But we have to gotten used to it," he said. "Fortunately, they are not aggressive with us now."