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For Bangladeshi, U.S. Deportation Could Mean Death

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For Bangladeshi, U.S. Deportation Could Mean Death

Law

For Bangladeshi, U.S. Deportation Could Mean Death

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

A Bangladeshi man who used to sell TVs at Circuit City in Los Angeles is fighting deportation back to his home country. He faces execution for his participation in a 1975 coup, which led to the assassination of the first president in Bangladesh.

From member station KPCC in Los Angeles, Frank Stoltze reports.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

FRANK STOLTZE: Bangladeshis gather for their annual festival in Los Angeles. More than 20,000 live here. Many are closely following the deportation case of Mohiuddin Ahmed, convicted of helping assassinate Sheikh Mujib Rahman. Mujib led Bangladesh to independence from Pakistan nearly 4 decades ago. Twenty- seven-year old Lavina Ullah(ph) says he is a revered man in her homeland.

LAVINA ULLAH: When you go into the streets of Bangladesh, there's still shrines to him everywhere, and they're still mourning for the loss, because he was taken away. And I think that kind of made him immortal.

STOLTZE: This is why Ahmed's deportation case stirs deep emotions among many Bangladeshis. Fifty-seven-year old Seidur Rahman(ph) has his son interpret for him.

SEIDUR RAHMAN: (Through Translator) So he's a traitor of our nation. He killed the father of our nation, and not only that, he's behind the destruction of Bangladesh as well - like our country's right now backward. It's because of him.

STOLTZE: Mohiuddin Ahmed has lived in Los Angeles for a decade, volunteering for the Red Cross, selling TVs at Circuit City and working as an interpreter for AT&T. Back in 1975, he was a 28-year-old army major in Bangladesh. In an interview from a Los Angeles immigration detention facility, he admits he supported the military coup, because, he says, the president had become a dictator. But he says he played no role in the assassination of Sheikh Mujib.

MOHIUDDIN AHMED: I had nothing to do with killing of Sheikh. I was given a responsibility to create a roadblock in one of these main streets in Dhaka. I had no idea that he was shot.

STOLTZE: For two decades after the coup, Ahmed served as a Bangladeshi diplomat. His fortunes changed in 1997, when the daughter of Sheikh Mujib came to power and put him and more than a dozen others on trial. Ahmed fled to the U.S. and was convicted in absentia. The court sentenced him to hang.

Witnesses put him at the scene of the assassination. Ahmed claims they were pressured by the government, and that he didn't get a fair trial.

AHMED: Not at all. The witnesses that was produced before the court were tutored, and were tortured speak from certain things that they wanted.

STOLTZE: But the U.S. State Department disagrees. An immigration judge denied Ahmed political asylum and cited a State Department report that said he received due process in his trial. The judge noted that the coup involved the brutal killing of the president's family, including his 10-year-old son, and the overthrow of a democratically elected government. He declared Ahmed a terrorist and a security threat to the U.S.

Sheikh Mohammed Belal with the Bangladeshi Embassy says it's time for Ahmed to face justice.

SHEIKH MOHAMMED BELAL: He has been convicted of a crime committed in Bangladesh, so the government of Bangladesh is interested to have him back.

STOLTZE: Sam Zarifi is with Human Rights Watch. He can't say whether Ahmed got a fair trial in 1997, but he says the judicial system in Bangladesh is plagued with problems. A military-backed caretaker government rules Bangladesh now, as the two main political parties vie for power.

One of those two parties is led by the daughter of the assassinated president. The other, by the widow of the man who took over the presidency after the 1975 coup. Zarifi says Mohiuddin Ahmed is caught in the middle.

SAM ZARIFI: There is no question that this case and what's happening in Los Angeles are playing into the national drama - the melodrama, I would say - that has, to a great extent, paralyzed Bangladeshi politics for the last 15 years.

STOLTZE: Ahmed remains locked up in an immigration detention center as a federal court reviews his case. His family, meantime, hopes the U.S. government will allow Ahmed to go to a third country, instead of to his likely execution in Bangladesh.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Stoltze in Los Angeles.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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