A Venice man ordered to return to Bangladesh to face execution for his role in a 1975 military coup is waging an eleventh-hour battle to avoid deportation.
Mohiuddin A.K.M. Ahmed, 60, has been living in Los Angeles for the last 10 years and working as a translator for a telephone company.
He was tried in absentia in Bangladesh in 1996, convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging for taking part in the coup, which led to the killings of the country’s leader and most of his family.
Ahmed, then an army major, says that although he manned a roadblock a mile from President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s home, he thought the leader would be arrested peacefully.
“Myself and others believed that the orders we received were lawful,” Ahmed said. “At no time was I, or my troops, involved in any violence.”
But Rahman and seven family members, including his wife and 10-year-old son, were killed, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ahmed had participated in terrorist activity.
“Even his own account of his actions established that he assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of persons on account of their political opinion,” a three-judge panel of the federal court said last month.
Ahmed’s family and lawyer want him deported to another country where he could seek political asylum and fight his conviction. His lawyer, Joseph Sandoval, said Ahmed cannot appeal in Bangladesh because he was not in the country during his trial.
“Essentially, they want to take him from the plane to the gallows,” Sandoval said. “We think that is fundamentally unfair.” He added that his client is not the “heinous person” the U.S. and Bangladesh governments have made him out to be.
But time is running out. Ahmed was to have left the country Monday night, but Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) called Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s office and requested a delay.
“Amnesty International and our State Department has questioned the integrity of the Bangladeshi judicial system,” said Tara Setmayer, a spokeswoman for Rohrabacher.
“And because of that, Dana felt as though there would be no harm in trying to buy some time for his legal counsel to find a country” where he would not be put to death.
“Given the circumstances, he said he’d be willing to place a phone call or two to buy some time and figure things out,” she said.
On Tuesday, an immigration enforcement spokeswoman said the deportation order remains in force. The spokeswoman refused to say when Ahmed, who is being held at the Terminal Island detention center in San Pedro, would be forced to leave.
“Right now, the family is just trying to keep it together, answer questions and keep their hopes up,” family friend Steve Paskay said. “It’s not over yet.”
The 1975 coup in Bangladesh was spawned by a group of right-wing, pro-Pakistan army officers in response to increasing authoritarianism under left-leaning President Rahman, according to Sam Zarifi, Asian research director for New York-based Human Rights Watch. It was known as the Majors’ Coup. There have been allegations that it was supported by the United States.
After the coup, a period of military rule began and the government absolved participants of wrongdoing. Ahmed served as a diplomat in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other locations until 1996, when the assassinated president’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, came to power.
In an interview with The Times in December 2000, Hasina spoke of wanting to bring her father’s killers, including Ahmed, to justice.
“One of the saddest chapters in our history was the brutal killing of my father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and several family members,” Hasina said.
“Three of the convicted killers now live in the United States. I requested the president’s assistance in expeditious finalization of the extradition treaty.”
By the time his trial started, Ahmed was already in the United States and had filed a request for political asylum under the provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, immigration law changed and Ahmed, accused of taking part in killing a head of state, was no longer entitled to the convention’s protections, the family said.
Times staff writer Anna Gorman contributed to this report.