The US has reopened a decades-old asylum case against Rashed Chowdhury, a convicted killer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, keeping alive the prospect that he could be deported to Bangladesh where he has been sentenced in absentia to death.
The Politico, an American political magazine, on Friday reported that US Attorney General William Barr “quietly reopened” the case as he directed the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) on June 15 to send Rashed’s case to him for review.
The document doesn’t include Rashed’s name, but refers to “the matter of A-M-R-C,” using his full initials. A lawyer for Rashed shared the Department of Justice (DOJ) communications with Politico.
“Barr’s move is the first step in a process that could result in Rashed losing asylum after more than a decade and potentially facing deportation,” it says.
Contacted, Bangladesh Law Minister Anisul Huq preferred not to comment on it.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen could not be reached for comments.
The Father of the Nation and most of his family members were killed in a coup d’état on August 15, 1975. His daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived as they were abroad at the time, but the investigation into it stopped through an Indemnity Ordinance, which had protected the self-proclaimed killers. The ordinance was abrogated in November 1996 when the Awami League returned to power.
After a lengthy trial, the Supreme Court on November 19, 2009 upheld a High Court verdict, confirming capital punishment of 12 people. Five of the convicts — Syed Farooq Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Bazlul Huda, AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed and Mohiuddin Ahmed — were executed on January 27, 2010. Another killer, Aziz Pasha, died in Zimbabwe in 2001.
Those who remain fugitives include Maj (retd) Rashed Chowdhury, Col (dismissed) Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Lt Col (relieved) Shariful Haque Dalim, Maj (retd) Noor Chowdhury, Capt Abdul Majed and Risaldar Moslehuddin Khan.
Bangladesh has been making legal and diplomatic efforts to bring back the fugitive killers. A taskforce was formed in 2010 to locate and bring back the six. However, only two of the six could be traced — Rashed Chowdhury in the US and Noor Chowdhury in Canada. Two law firms — in the US and Canada — were also appointed for lobbying to bring the killers back to the country.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wrote to US President Donald Trump in 2018 for the extradition of Rashed. Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, on different occasions, requested the high US officials for Rashed’s repatriation.
After the killing of Bangabandhu, he was deputed to the ministry of foreign and then posted in different missions. He was terminated from jobs in 1996 when he was posted at the Bangladesh mission in Brazil. Instead of coming back to Dhaka, he fled to San Francisco, USA, with his family with visit visas. Within two months, they’d applied for asylum.
The Politico says, “That’s where the Justice Department comes in. America’s immigration courts aren’t part of the judicial branch. Instead, the system that determines who gets to stay here is part of the DOJ, with the attorney general as the ultimate authority. The immigration courts are massively backlogged, and adjudicating asylum claims can take years.”
That’s how it went for Rashed. Nearly 10 years after he arrived in the US, an immigration judge granted him asylum. But the Homeland Security (DHS), which handles US government arguments against immigrants’ efforts to stay in the US, appealed the judge’s ruling. DHS lawyers argued his participation in the coup should disqualify him from receiving asylum.
Then, the BIA took up the case and in 2006 concluded Rashed deserved asylum. But there was still one open question: if he had violated the US anti-terrorism laws.
“So BIA sent the case back to the immigration judge to reexamine that issue. The immigration judge found no issue with granting him asylum, and Rashed’s lawyers assumed the matter was resolved,” says the Politico report.
“For almost 15 years, the case was closed. But now, thanks to Barr, it’s back. And immigration lawyers say the move sends a chilling message to people who have received asylum in the US. It signals, they argue, that even after years of successful legal battles, any protection could still be revoked out of the blue,” it added.