Last month, United States Attorney General William Barr reopened a case that had been closed for almost 15 years against a man who has been accused of being part of the coup in which Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated in 1975, Politico reported this week.
The man, M A Rashed Chowdhury, has been in the US since 1996, the year the Bangabandhu’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, became Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Soon afterward, the parliament in Dhaka had revoked the immunity enjoyed by plotters of the coup. Read in Tamil
Who is M A Rashed Chowdhury?
M A Rashed Chowdhury is a former Bangladeshi military officer and diplomat. He is accused of participating in the military coup that led to Mujib’s assassination on August 15, 1975. Chowdhury was a Major in the Bangladeshi army at the time.
Was he tried for participating in the coup and the assassination?
Following Mujib’s death, the junta that came to power passed the Indemnity Ordinance granting immunity to all those involved in the coup and assassination. In 1979, the ordinance was turned into law by the Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament) when Gen Ziaur Rahman was President.
Ziaur Rahman had become chief of the Bangladesh army days after Mujib was assassinated. He became President in 1977, and founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in 1978. Ziaur Rahman was himself assassinated in May 1981 — and after a few years, his wife Khaleda Zia took over the BNP.
Khaleda served as Prime Minister of Bangladesh for two five-year terms beginning in 1991 and 2001. After the end of her first term, the Awami League, led by the Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina came to power. The Indemnity Act was revoked, and the Hasina government put 20 people accused of the assassination of Mujib on trial.
In 1996, Chowdhury was serving as a diplomat in Bangladesh’s Embassy in Brazil. When he was recalled home by the government, Chowdhury, fearing reprisal, fled to the US with his family.
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What happened in the US?
After fleeing to the US, Chowdhury applied for political asylum. About eight years later, he was granted asylum by US immigration judge Phan Quang Tue.
While the Bangladesh government accuses Chowdhury of playing a major role in Mujib’s killing and the coup, Judge Phan Quang Tue ruled in 2004 that he was “a last-minute inductee who played a relatively minor role”.
The US Department of Homeland Security appealed against the decision, saying that Chowdhury’s participation in the coup disqualified him from being granted asylum. This led to the US Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) hearing the case. In 2006, the BIA confirmed asylum to Chowdhury.
So why is the case being reopened now?
Chowdhury’s legal team has questioned the abrupt decision made by Attorney General Barr. Marc Van Der Hout, who is one of the lawyers representing the former officer, told Politico: “It’s purely a favour the Trump administration is doing for Bangladesh.”
Many see the reopening of the case as part of the US effort to woo the Hasina government, which has been working with China to build important infrastructure in Bangladesh. According to Bangladeshi media, the country’s civil aviation authority has signed a deal with the Beijing Urban Construction Group to expand the terminal building of the airport in Sylhet, a city in the north east of Bangladesh, very close to the borders of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.
Has Bangladesh made efforts to get its hands on Chowdhury?
Over the years, Bangladesh has attempted to persuade the US to extradite Chowdhury, who was tried in absentia and awarded the death penalty along with 12 former army officers by the Bangladesh Supreme Court on November 19, 2009.
On October 10, 2011, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, during her visit to the US, took up the issue of deporting Chowdhury with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington DC.
Subsequently, on March 29, 2012, Akramul Qader, then Bangladesh’s Ambassador to the US, formally requested Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, to send Chowdhury back.
Foreign Minister Moni raised the issue with Secretary of State Clinton again on May 5, 2012, when Clinton visited Dhaka.
Since being appointed Foreign Minister in January 2019, A K Abdul Momen has campaigned extensively for Chowdhury to be handed over, including with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
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