Journalist released on bail after 17 months behind bars

New York, May 2, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release on bail Saturday of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor and publisher of the now-defunct weekly tabloid Blitz. Choudhury spent 17 months behind bars awaiting trial on sedition and antistate charges, despite repeated requests for bail.

“While we are relieved that our colleague Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury finally received bail after 17 long months, we remain deeply concerned about the trumped-up charges he faces and we call on authorities to drop this case against him immediately,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

Choudhury told CPJ today that the court granted him bail for one month only, and that he will be required to appear in court again on May 25 to appeal for an extension of his bail. He said that he was in poor health as a result of his jail time. Choudhury said he did not receive medical treatment for his hypertension or his eye problems; he was forced to sleep on the floor of his cell; and he suffered extreme weight loss.

The charges stem from Choudhury’s attempt to travel to Israel in November 2003 to participate in a conference with the Hebrew Writers Association. Bangladesh has no formal relations with Israel, and travel to Israel is illegal for Bangladeshi citizens. He was initially charged with passport violations, which were later dropped, and was then formally charged with sedition in February 2004. As evidence for the sedition charges brought against Choudhury three months after his arrest, an airport security officer cited articles written by the journalist about the rise of fundamentalism in Bangladesh.

On February 13, the Criminal Investigation Department issued a charge sheet to the court claiming that it was prepared to make its case against Choudhury on the sedition charges. But on April 25—when prosecutors were scheduled to show the evidence against him—they were unable to present their case, according to Choudhury.

Choudhury said that political interests, such as fundamentalist groups, are pressuring the court to revoke his bail, and he feels under threat from extremist organizations. Bangladesh is one of the most violent countries for the press in Asia. Journalists are routinely threatened, attacked and harassed; three were murdered last year in reprisal for their reporting.

CPJ featured Bangladesh in “Marked for Death,” an analysis of the “Most Murderous Countries for Journalists” that was issued to mark World Press Freedom Day, May 3. With nine journalists killed over the last five years, Bangladesh ranked in the top five countries. The other countries featured are the Philippines, Iraq, Colombia and Russia.