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International PEN concerned that journalist is being detained for his writings

(WiPC/IFEX) - The WiPC of International PEN is seriously concerned about the detention of journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Chaudhury, who has been held since 29 November 2003 on espionage charges. Chaudhury is known for his work to improve relations between Muslim countries and Israel, and it is widely believed that his detention is connected to articles published in his magazine calling on Bangladesh to recognise Israel and advocating greater understanding between religions.

According to PEN's information, Chaudhury, editor of the tabloid weekly "Blitz", was arrested by security personnel at Zia International Airport, Dhaka, on 29 November 2003 on espionage charges. Chaudhury was reportedly on his way to Israel to participate in a conference with the Hebrew Writers Association when he was arrested. Chaudhury is believed to have been going 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. Chaudhury denies the charges.

Chaudhury has written articles against anti-Israeli attitudes in Muslim countries and about the rise of al-Qaeda in Bangladesh, which reportedly sparked debate in the Bangladeshi press and government prior to his arrest. Chaudhury was recently named head of the Bangladeshi branch of the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC), an organisation of writers who campaign for peace.

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