Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim editor and commentator in Bangladesh, has a rare virtue -- he champions dialogue and decency in a culture hemmed in by extremism and corruption. When his weekly newspaper, Blitz, published articles favorable to Israel, it was blacklisted by various companies. Some people demanded that the paper be banned. Mr. Choudhury was thrown out of a private television company.
But all of this pales compared with what happened last month. As he boarded a flight in Dhaka, the capital, on his way to a writers' conference in Tel Aviv, Mr. Choudhury was arrested by security personnel, accused of being a spy and thrown in prison. The charges are a baseless sham. The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières have vigorously condemned his arrest. Governments, including Washington, need to demand his release.
The Tel Aviv meeting Mr. Choudhury was planning to attend was called ''Bridges Through Culture'' and the lecture he hoped to deliver concerned the role of the media in establishing peace. Mr. Choudhury, who was going to open a Bangladeshi branch of a group called the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace, would have been the first journalist from Bangladesh to speak publicly in Israel.
Mr. Choudhury's mistreatment is not occurring in a vacuum. Muslim extremism is growing in Bangladesh. Moreover, violence against journalists who stand up to the ruling party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been increasing, especially in the south and especially for those exposing links between politicians and organized crime. On Dec. 4, a correspondent for a southern regional daily was beaten and stabbed by members of the party's youth wing after publication of an article critical of a key local politician.
On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières sent letters to Khaleda Zia, the prime minister of Bangladesh, expressing grave concern over these developments. Their alarm is quite justified. Bangladesh may now be among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. That makes Mr. Choudhury's courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable -- and vital to defend.
To the Editor:
Re ''The Risks of Journalism in Bangladesh'' (editorial, Dec. 14):
Bangladesh prides itself on being one of the largest democracies in the world. To say ''Bangladesh may now be among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists'' is a sweeping statement that bears no relationship to the reality on the ground.
Bangladeshi journalists have traditionally been fiercely independent, and have had a great historical role in the evolution of the country's values.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has been accused of breaking a law and has therefore been apprehended. Let there be no doubt that the legal and judicial system in the country, which is seen worldwide as being free, independent and fair, will determine the case justly.
Minister (Press), Permanent
Mission of Bangladesh to the U.N.
New York, Dec. 18, 2003