AC­CUSED AS­SAS­SIN IN LIMBO

BANGLADESH SEEKS OR­DER FORC­ING CANADA TO DIS­CLOSE STA­TUS OF MAN AT THE CEN­TRE OF A BLOODY COUP

Ottawa Citizen - - NP - BRIAN PLATT

In Au­gust 1975, a group of soldiers stormed the res­i­dence of Bangladesh’s first pres­i­dent and bru­tally gunned down him and his fam­ily. It was the start of a mil­i­tary coup. Only two of Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man’s daugh­ters, both in West Ger­many at the time, sur­vived.

One of those daugh­ters was elected as Bangladesh’s leader two decades later and, ever since, Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina has been on a mis­sion to bring her fa­ther’s killers to jus­tice. In 1998, 15 men were con­victed in a trial; af­ter lengthy ap­peals and three ac­quit­tals, five were ex­e­cuted in 2010. But the man thought to have per­son­ally fired the bul­lets that killed Hasina’s fa­ther was con­victed in ab­sen­tia, and has never faced pun­ish­ment.

In­stead, Nur Chowdhury has been liv­ing free in Canada since 1996, much to the out­rage of Hasina. Now Bangladesh is push­ing once again to have Chowdhury re­turned. A new Fed­eral Court ap­pli­ca­tion was filed on June 7 that seeks to force the fed­eral govern­ment to dis­close Chowdhury’s cur­rent le­gal sta­tus, which is a mystery both to the public and to the Bangladesh govern­ment.

Al­though Chowdhury’s refugee claim was re­jected by Cana­dian of­fi­cials over his al­leged role in the as­sas­si­na­tion, he has es­caped de­por­ta­tion due to the death sen­tence handed down by the Bangla­ desh court. Fol­low­ing mul­ti­ple Supreme Court de­ci­sions, Canada does not de­port peo­ple likely to be ex­e­cuted or tor­tured. (There is a caveat for “ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances,” though that re­mains vague in prac­tice.)

Hasina re­port­edly raised the mat­ter directly with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau in a meet­ing fol­low­ing the G7 Sum­mit in Que­bec, which Bangladesh was at­tend­ing as one of 12 coun­tries in­vited to an “outreach ses­sion.”

In a June 11 re­port in the Daily Star, the largest English­language news­pa­per in Bangladesh, Hasina’s press sec­re­tary said that dur­ing the meet­ing Hasina “called for Trudeau’s per­sonal ini­tia­tive for im­me­di­ate ex­tra­di­tion of the self­con­fessed killer, one of the two as­sas­sins who directly shot Fa­ther of the Na­tion Banga­bandhu Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man dead.”

(Chowdhury would likely dis­pute be­ing “self­con­fessed,” as he had tried to de­clare his in­no­cence when ap­ply­ing for refugee sta­tus.)

The Daily Star’s ac­count also re­ported Trudeau “ex­pressed his com­pas­sion to Sheikh Hasina” and told her that “Cana­dian of­fi­cials were qui­etly en­gaged in deal­ing with the is­sue.”

Trudeau’s of­fice had re­leased a public sum­mary of the meet­ing on June 10, but it made no men­tion of Chowdhury’s case. The sum­mary said the two lead­ers dis­cussed “op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove the re­silience of coastal com­mu­ni­ties and to re­duce plas­tic waste,” as well as sup­port for the Ro­hingya and oth­ers dis­placed by the Myan­mar con­flict.

Asked on Wed­nes­day whether the lead­ers dis­cussed Chowdhury’s case, Trudeau’s of­fice said it had noth­ing to add to the public sum­mary.

The court doc­u­ment, how­ever, shows this has been an ac­tive file be­tween the two gov­ern­ments.

“In Septem­ber 2016, these is­sues were dis­cussed in a meet­ing be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and Bangladesh’s Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina Wazed ... As a re­sult of that meet­ing, a fur­ther meet­ing of Cana­dian and Bangladesh of­fi­cials was held in April 2017,” the ap­pli­ca­tion for ju­di­cial re­view reads.

It says Cana­dian of­fi­cials had ex­plained the lim­i­ta­tion on de­port­ing some­one likely to face ex­e­cu­tion. But they had de­clined to give Bangladesh in­for­ma­tion on Chowdhury’s cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, in­clud­ing whether he was ever granted a pre-re­moval risk as­sess­ment — a for­mal mech­a­nism that ex­empts some­one from be­ing de­ported.

In Jan­uary 2018, Miza­nur Rah­man, Bangladesh’s High Com­mis­sioner to Canada, wrote to Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ahmed Hussen re­quest­ing the sta­tus of Chowdhury’s risk as­sess­ment. Hussen de­nied the re­quest on two grounds: that Chowdhury had a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion of pri­vacy, and that Canada and Bangladesh don’t have an in­for­ma­tion shar­ing agree­ment.

Rah­man then re­quested that a spe­cial in­for­ma­tion shar­ing agree­ment be ne­go­ti­ated, but was again re­buffed on pri­vacy grounds.

The Fed­eral Court ap­pli­ca­tion, filed by To­rys LLP in Toronto, seeks to have the court re­ject the min­is­ter’s de­ci­sion as un­rea­son­able, ar­gu­ing Hussen did not fully con­sider the “sig­nif­i­cant” public in­ter­est grounds in re­leas­ing Chowdhury’s in­for­ma­tion.

“Chowdhury has been con­victed of a crime of great sig­nif­i­cance for the peo­ple of Bangladesh ... The in­for­ma­tion sought is nec­es­sary to en­able the Govern­ment of Bangladesh to as­sess its pol­icy op­tions and the ba­sis of ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Govern­ment of Canada.”

Chowdhury’s case re­ceived sig­nif­i­cant me­dia cov­er­age in Canada in 2011, in­clud­ing ar­ti­cles in the Na­tional Post, Ma­clean’s and the Toronto Star. At the time, he was found to be liv­ing in a condo in the Toronto neigh­bour­hood of Eto­bi­coke with his wife, Rashida Khanam. But Chowdhury has avoided the spot­light since then. A mes­sage left on what ap­peared to be Chowdhury’s voice mail was not re­turned.

The Bangladesh High Com­mis­sion did not re­spond to re­quest for com­ment, while a spokesper­son for Hussen said they can’t dis­cuss any case with­out signed con­sent.

The court doc­u­ment says Bangladesh has been try­ing to re­solve this with Canada for more than a decade.

“In those dis­cus­sions, the Govern­ment of Bangladesh has em­pha­sized the sig­nif­i­cance of the as­sas­si­na­tion of Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man ... the world­wide ef­fort on the part of the Govern­ment of Bangladesh to bring Chowdhury and the other fugi­tives from that as­sas­si­na­tion (and coup) to jus­tice, and the im­por­tance of ob­tain­ing Canada’s co-op­er­a­tion to up­hold the rule of law and avoid be­com­ing a safe haven for peo­ple who have com­mit­ted crimes abroad.”

HANDOUT PHOTO

Nur Chowdhury was con­victed in ab­sen­tia in Bangladesh for the 1975 as­sas­si­na­tion of its first pres­i­dent, Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man.

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