Our Government failed us, says relatives of British surgeon who died in Syrian custody

24th Dec 2013

Our Government failed us, says relatives of British surgeon who died in Syrian custody

[Dr Abbas Khan’s siblings accused the Foreign Office of failing their brother]


By Elham Asaad Buaras


The family of an Orthopaedic surgeon from south London who died in custody in Syria have accused the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of failing to help get him freed.


Dr Abbas Khan, 32, a father of two was seized by Syrian Government forces and held in an underground cell after travelling to Aleppo to work in a field hospital on November 22, 2012.


Dr Khan ventured into the war zone from Turko-Syrian border to take with him much needed life saving medical supplies for the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.


His family say, having witnessed the horrific injuries of those fleeing the area, Dr Khan put his own life on the line and ventured to Syria without a visa answering the emergency call of fellow doctors based in the area.


His brother Dr Shahnawaz Khan said the death of his brother, who worked at the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital, had brought “utter despair” to the family but they were proud that he died doing something he believed in.


Dr Khan was married with a six-year-old son Abdullah, and a daughter Rurayya aged seven.


His brother said his mother went to visit Khan, who had been due to be released shortly, in jail in Damascus but was told he was dead.


The Syrian Government said Khan killed himself but the family have rejected that explanation and FCO Minister, Hugh Robertson, said that Syrian authorities had “in effect murdered a British national who was in their country to help people injured during their civil war.”


Dr Shahnawaz said: “It is interesting for the Foreign Office to take that line now. We have been telling them for 13 months that this is a very real possibility. And they have treated his case like he’s been some wayward traveller in Dubai being caught drunk, and contravened some trivial law in Syria.”


“The fact that this individual was out there helping the humanitarian effort and has been held for 13 months against his will, without a charge or a trial or access to a lawyer, and they have offered very little assistance, placated us throughout.”


A spokesman for the Prime Minister told The Muslim News they were “in regular contact” with his family.


And in a statement to The Muslim News the FCO said “We have consistently sought consular access to Dr Khan and information on his detention, directly and through the Russians, Czechs and others. In November, Minister Robertson wrote making clear our concerns about his welfare and treatment, stressing that the regime’s failure to provide any information that would indicate Dr Khan’s continued detention is legitimate meant his position should be reviewed immediately. These requests have consistently been ignored.”


Khan’s family contradicted the Government’s claims insisting they were offered little help. Dr Shahnawaz said his mother had organised all the trips to Syria including meetings with high Syrian officials without the aid of the FCO.  He also insisted the capture of other nationals in Syria had prompted COBRA(emergency Cabinet meeting) level meetings.


Speaking from Beirut, Dr Afroze Khan, the younger of the three doctor siblings reiterated the accusation the FCO provided little assistance, “Everything that had been achieved form contacting embassies, to lobbying politicians both here and in Syria, to locating my brother’s whereabouts when he was missing to getting him transferred from a civilian to an intelligence prison has all been achieved thanks to the bravery and hard work of our mother.”


Dr Shahnawaz said he hopes the FCO would do a better job repatriating Dr Khan’s body.


Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, said Dr Khan had used his pyjamas to hang himself, claims Dr Shahnawaz described as “utter nonsense”.


Dr Shahnawaz said his brother was in “high spirits” as he was told he was to be released and wrote to them saying he was looking forward to coming home and spending Christmas with them.


George Galloway, the Bradford West MP, said he had been negotiating for months with the Syrian Government over the release of Khan and had been due to fly out on December 20 to bring him home, after receiving a call from the Syrian Foreign Minister informing him that President, Bashar al-Assad, had ordered Khan’s release.

“We will have to wait for clarification on how exactly he died,” said Galloway. “His freedom had been agreed and he was due to return with me in the next few days,” he added saying he was in the process of booking a flight when “I got the appalling news.”


Embarrassingly for both the Government and the Opposition neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband mentioned the death of Dr Khan in during Prime Minister’s Question time last Wednesday.


The lapse was highlighted by Editor of The Muslim News Ahmed Versi who tweeted how: “Neither PM nor EdMil paid tribute 2 #britishmuslim Dr #AbbasKhan killed in #Syrian detention. Nor condolences.”


Former Labour Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform, Tony McNulty, responded: “They should’ve done – a bad oversight.”

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