Convicted assassin living freely in Etobicoke
Published On Tue, 15 Feb 2011
Nur Chowdhury was once Bangladesh’s High Commissioner in Hong Kong.
South China Morning Post photo
The shots that killed the founding father of Bangladesh early one morning in 1975 came blasting out of a Sten submachine-gun held by a man named Nur Chowdhury.
Thirty-five years later, the assassin who pulled the trigger on president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman lives quietly in a modest condo building in Etobicoke.
He has never been punished for his crimes.
Chowdhury was sentenced to death for his role in the military coup that killed the president, his family and others in a massacre that catapulted the country into chaos.
But here in Canada, the death penalty is exactly what is keeping the 61-year-old man safe: Ottawa doesn’t deport people who face execution.
For that reason, Chowdhury remains here in limbo, even though Bangladesh wants him to face justice at home.
His refugee claims have been denied and courts have ordered him removed from the country, but that is not likely to happen anytime soon.
Chowdhury, who has lived in Canada since 1996, was tried in Bangladesh in absentia. He and 11 others were convicted and sentenced to death in April 2001 in a series of trials that Amnesty International declared were fair and unbiased.
Five of Chowdhury’s co-conspirators were hanged in Bangladesh last January after a much-delayed trial and lengthy appeal process.
According to court evidence, Chowdhury and a companion shot and killed the president with their submachine guns.
In a statement submitted to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, Chowdhury submitted an alibi for the day of the assassination, claiming he was helping his future wife and her brother finish a rush order of T-shirts for use at an upcoming rally in support of the president.
The board rejected his defence and called the coup “a carefully laid out plan to eliminate a whole family.”
Though the Canadian government obtained a court order to have him removed from the country several years ago, officials have since advised Bangladesh that Chowdhury will not deported as long as the death sentence sticks, according to sources who spoke to Maclean’s.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2001 that Ottawa cannot extradite fugitives unless the government obtains assurances they will not be executed.
If Bangladesh dropped Chowdhury’s punishment to a lesser sentence, extradition could be granted. But senior officials at Bangladesh’s High Commission in Ottawa told Maclean’s that Dhaka can no more undo the decisions of its high court than Canada can.
Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni is expected to raise the issue when she visits Ottawa this week.
Assan Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi journalist living in Toronto who is unrelated to Nur Chowdhury, said it is no secret in the local Bangladeshi community that he has been living here.
“I think most people think that he’s a criminal,” said Chowdhury, who also works for Bangladeshi-Canadian Community Services. “Whatever they may have thought in 1975 they think he’s a criminal now. And he should be sent back.”
According to court records, Nur Chowdhury and several truckloads of soldiers went to the president’s lakeside home in Dhaka in the middle of the night wearing battle fatigues and bearing firearms.
The group had conspired to assassinate Mujib and his family members and install a military-backed leader in his place.
Chowdhury was 24 at the time, had recently left the military and only joined the plot two days before the attack, according to reports.
The group entered the house shortly after 5 a.m. According to evidence, after finding the president inside, Chowdhury and a companion killed him.
The group of assassins also slaughtered several other members of the leader’s family, including his wife, eldest son and two newlywed daughters-in-law. When they found his 10-year-old son hiding behind a chair, they took him outside and shot him as well.
The perpetrators weren’t held to account until 1996, when Sheikh Hasina Wazed, daughter of the assassinated leader, became prime minister.
Chowdhury and others were then recalled from diplomatic posts abroad, where they were stationed in the aftermath of the coup.
But Chowdhury never returned to Bangladesh. He and his wife, Rashida Khanam, landed in Canada the next month and were granted visitor status. They filed refugee claims soon after.
In 2005, Chowdhury and Khanam bought a $185,000 third-floor condo in central Etobicoke and have lived there peacefully since.
Residents in the well-maintained three-storey building said they see Chowdhury around but don’t know him very well. One woman said he always says hello when he passes her in the hallway.
Chowdhury, who has surrendered his Canadian passport, must pay weekly visits to immigration authorities in Toronto because he is technically under a deportation order, which means he must keep the government aware of his whereabouts.
Years ago, Chowdhury used to be seen at some Toronto Bangladeshi community events, Assan Chowdhury remembers.
“In one case, I think, one person slapped him. You can’t just go and slap someone in Canada, even if he’s been charged with killing several people.”
Since then, Chowdhury said, “he’s kept a low profile.”
With files from San Grewal