Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bangladesh executions may force Canada not to deport Toronto suspect

Photograph by: Canwest News Service, Photo Handout
Dismissed Major Nur Chowdhury is wanted by Bangladesh for the assassination of the country's founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the killing of 27 others in a military coup in 1975

RANDY BOSWELL


THURSDAY'S EXECUTION in Bangladesh of five men convicted of killing the country's "founding father" in 1975 may force Canada to reject calls to deport a Toronto resident also has been found guilty — and sentenced to hang — for his alleged role in the assassination plot.

Bangladeshi officials have been pressuring Canada to hand over Nur Chowdhury, a former army officer accused of firing the fatal shots in the August 1975 coup that left then-president Sheik Mujibur Rahman dead, along with a dozen others caught in the crossfire at the presidential compound in the capital Dhaka.

Chowdhury and several other suspects had left Bangladesh by the time the alleged plotters — some in custody, others deemed fugitives and living abroad — were convicted of the killings and sentenced to death in 1998.

Now living in Toronto, the 59-year-old Chowdhury has been challenging a Canadian deportation order on the grounds that he will be put to death if returned to Bangladesh.

Canada, which abolished capital punishment in 1976, requires foreign nations to guarantee that any suspect extradited or deported from this country will not be subject to the death penalty for alleged crimes committed abroad.

Last month, Citizenship and Immigration Canada told Canwest News Service that Chowdhury's fate would be determined in part by whether his deportation would result in certain death or only the "mere possibility" of a hanging.

But Thursday's executions of Chowdhury's alleged co-conspirators send a clear signal about the fate that could await him if he's sent back to his home country.

Bangladeshi Law Minister Shafique Ahmed visited Canada in November to push for Chowdhury's deportation. He vowed after Thursday's executions that all of those convicted of killing Rahman will be brought to justice eventually. He also told reporters in Dhaka that the Canadian government supports Chowdhury's deportation and that "only the legal formalities are pending now" before his return to Bangladesh.

But Ahmed added that Chowdhury and the others found guilty in the assassination case — all of whom were tried in absentia more than a decade ago — will have the opportunity to appeal their convictions.

The death penalty has been a contentious issue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government lost a Federal Court lawsuit last year over its refusal to seek clemency for Canadian-born killer Ronald Smith, now on death row in the U.S.

"In cases where the death penalty is a possibility, the government will seek assurances from the country to which the person is being returned that, if found guilty and convicted, the death penalty will not be imposed," a Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson told Canwest News Service in December.

Prevented by privacy rules from discussing details of Chowdhury's case — which the department has acknowledged involves a "complex" combination of immigration law and international diplomacy — a spokesperson explained at the time that a deportation review panel must assess "whether there is more than a mere possibility that the person will face the death penalty" before issuing a ruling.

On Thursday, CIC spokesperson Karen Shadd added that Canada's "pre-removal risk assessment" for potential deportees "evaluates whether a person would face persecution, torture, risk to life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment" if sent to face charges in another country.

Apart from the fact that Chowdhury has already been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1975 killings, and that five executions have now been carried out in connection with the deaths, the case is further complicated by the fact Rahman's daughter is currently serving as Bangladesh's prime minister.

Sheik Hasina Wajed was visiting Europe 34 years ago when her father was assassinated and several other family members were killed in the coup d'etat. With Wajed now holding one of Bangladesh's most powerful political posts, Canada is in a particularly difficult position as it decides what to do with her father's alleged killer.

Bangladesh's high commissioner in Ottawa, Yakub Ali, said in December that Chowdhury "committed a heinous crime" and should be deported.

Chowdhury arrived in Canada in 1996 after a lengthy career as a Bangladeshi diplomat under the post-Rahman regime. He was granted visitor status on July 5, 1996, and soon after filed a refugee claim — the same year that Wajed first became prime minister of Bangladesh and vowed to bring her father's killers to justice.

Chowdhury's first refugee hearing was held in 1999, and he faced a string of defeats beginning in 2002, when his application was initially denied, court records show. He was again denied in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

But Chowdhury was not immediately sent back to Bangladesh by Canadian authorities because he faced the death penalty in his home country, according to a 2004 fax message sent by Interpol Ottawa to the Canada Border Services Agency.

The message, filed in Federal Court, said: "If there's a change of policy in Canada or Bangladesh regarding the sentencing, the subject may be extradited then." #

Syndicated by Canwest News Service©, Canada, January 28, 2010