Competency hearing reset in Rohingya immigrant

NASHUA – The competency hearing for Mohammod Rafique, the 28-year-old Rohingya man from Burma charged in 2017 with sexually assaulting four young girls, has been pushed ahead to next week after a prosecutor in the case fell ill.

Judge Jacalyn Colburn granted the motion to continue, which was filed last week by the prosecutor, First Assistant County Attorney Kent Smith.

The hearing was rescheduled to Wednesday, Jan. 16, starting at 10 a.m. in Hillsborough County Superior Court South.

Rafique, who arrived in Nashua several years ago as part of a United Nations resettlement initiative, which sought to rescue members of the Rohingya community from the rampant persecution in their native Burma, and then as unwelcome guests in Thailand, is charged with three counts each of felonious sexual assault and attempted felonious sexual assault.

The charges stem from allegations he grabbed, tried to kiss and improperly touched four girls ages 7-12 over a period of weeks, according to court documents.

Police said at the time of Rafique’s arrest in September 2017 that they began investigating allegations against him about two weeks earlier, and eventually identified four juvenile females he allegedly touched inappropriately in August 2017.

At subsequent hearings, Rafique’s attorneys told the court that he and his family were among the many Rohingya who were “tortured and beaten by smugglers,” Attorney Amanda Henderson said.

The repeated violence, which included being held captive for a year in Thailand, where Rohingya people thought they would escape the brutality, left Rafique with “severe PTSD and anxiety issues” that only compounded his fear of being incarcerated at Valley Street jail.

At the time of the hearing at which Henderson described Rafique’s history, he had been in Valley Street about a month. The experience was “one of total isolation,” she said, mainly due to the fact Rafique speaks no English.

He was therefore “unable to communicate in any way … to ask for help,” Henderson said, such as when he is all but paralyzed by frequent anxiety attacks.

Rafique’s competency to stand trial soon became an issue as the case moved forward, leading to the hearing now set for next week.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, or @Telegraph_DeanS.