18 Dec 2013

Syria doctor: Foreign Office ‘ignored warnings’

The family of a British surgeon who died after more than a year in detention in Syria have accused the Foreign Office of not doing enough to secure his release.

Photo from @FreeDRABBASKHAN

Abbas Khan, 32, an orthopaedic surgeon from Streatham, south London, was seized by government troops in the rebel-held city of Aleppo in November 2012 after he entered the country on a humanitarian mission without a visa.

He was due to be released at the end of the week, but on Monday his brother Afroze Khan announced he had died.

‘No excuses’

Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said there was “no excuse” for Dr Khan’s treatment and that Syrian authorities had “in effect murdered a British national who was in their country to help people injured during their civil war”.

He also said the government was seeking “urgent clarification” about Dr Khan’s death, which was “at best extremely suspicious”.

Shahnawaz Khan, another of Dr Khan’s brothers, said the Foreign Office had not acted quickly enough and that the family had warned it of the dire threat to him for more than a year.

He told the BBC: “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.”

Read more: British doctor dies in Syrian prison

‘Utter despair’

Mr Khan said his brother had written to the family to say he was looking forward to spending Christmas with them, and that they were “in utter despair” at his death just a few days before he was due to arrive home.

He added: “But we are also proud that he died doing something he believed in and helping people who were in desperate need.”

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC Dr Khan used his pyjamas to take his own life after having breakfast, an explanation the family rejected as “complete fiction”.

Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway, who had been negotiating with the Syrian authorities to secure Dr Khan’s freedom, said he was due to fly to Damascus on Friday to bring him home.

Mr Galloway said he believed someone in the Syrian regime had killed Dr Khan in defiance of President Assad’s decision to release him, the BBC said.

More than 1,000 people are believed to have died in the custody of the Syrian security forces since the start of the crisis in the country in March 2011, according to Amnesty.

Dr Khan was held and “accused of treating dying civilians (women and children) which has been classed as an act of terrorism”, his family told London’s Evening Standard newspaper.