Silencing dissent?
Silencing dissent?Thinkstock

A Bangladesh court Thursday jailed a newspaper editor for seven years for trying to travel to Israel more than a decade ago to speak about a rise in Islamic terrorism.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, 48, who edits the Weekly Blitz newspaper, was found guilty of "harming the country's interests" through his articles as well as trying to make a banned trip to Israel, said prosecutor Shah Alam Talukder.  

The verdict in the capital of the Muslim-majority nation came amid mounting criticism of the government's muzzling of dissenting voices, and after a blood-soaked general election boycotted by the opposition and dismissed as a farce.

The ruling also came just a day after another court indicted top human rights activists on similar charges for publishing "false" details of a police crackdown - a case criticized by local and international rights groups.  

Choudhury was arrested in November 2003 at Dhaka airport as he tried to attend a conference in Tel Aviv to present a paper on the emergence of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh, Talukder said.  

"Police seized several CDs, a laptop and a Dhaka-Bangkok-Tel Aviv air ticket from him. He was going to Israel to speak on the rise of Islamic militancy in the country and how the madrassas [Muslim schools - ed.] are being used to spawn militants," Talukder told AFP.  

Muslim-majority Bangladesh does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel and the country's 154 million citizens are banned from travelling to the Jewish state.  

Choudhury's writings, some of which were apparently published in the USA Today newspaper, were found to be "derogatory", "seditious" and to have tarnished the country's image, the prosecutor said.

He said Choudhury was in court for the verdict and was immediately sent to prison.  

Defense lawyer Prokash Ranjan Biswas said he would appeal as the verdict was "extremely unjust" and based on spurious charges.

"The prosecution could never prove that he was planning to travel to Israel. (And) His writing in the USA Today could never be found," Biswas said, adding that the court also denied his client's right to recall the prosecution witnesses to testify.  

 Choudhury was critical of the 2001-2006 Islamist-allied Bangladesh government led by the then-premier Khaleda Zia.

During the period several Muslim terrorist groups carried out a series of deadly bomb attacks in the country.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's current secular government under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has targeted pro-opposition journalists, and detained a top editor on charges of inciting terrorist activities.

The editor's pro-opposition Bengali-language newspaper was shut down last year along with two pro-Islamist television channels, after they telecast a police crackdown on a hardline Islamic group.