- Dr Abbas Khan, from South London, had travelled to Aleppo to volunteer
- He was imprisoned in November last year and was due for release this week
- Dr Khan, an orthopedic surgeon, died in detention according to his family
- The father-of-two had described his time in jail as ‘hell’ and spoke of torture
A British surgeon jailed by the Syrian government while volunteering at a hospital in Aleppo has died in prison after being starved and tortured, his family has said.
Dr Abbas Khan, 32, from Streatham, south London, was seized in the rebel-held city last year accused of entering the country without a visa.
For several months his family was unaware of his plight, and it was not until his mother travelled to Damascus this summer that the father-of-two was found, having lost half his body weight, and showing evidence of physical abuse.
In a letter addressed to Foreign Secretary William Hague, Dr Khan described his time jail as one of torture and hellish living conditions.
‘I have been violently forced to beat other prisoners, kept in squalid conditions, denied access to toilets or medical treatment,’ he wrote.
‘Repeated bouts of diarrhoea and chronic dermatological infection saw me lose 40-50 per cent of my body weight.
‘I have also experienced male prisoners being beaten to death and female prisoners screaming as they were being abused.’
After eight months in an underground cell, his mother Fatima Khan managed to track him down in Damascus.
‘He was like a skeleton and could barely walk,’ She told the Mail on Sunday.
‘He told me that he had been through eight months of hell and at times had simply wanted to die. He was getting trouble from both sides.
‘As well as the guards, other prisoners turned on him just because he is British. He told them that he was there to help their mothers and children.’
Syrian authorities had promised Dr Khan would be released this week, but instead his family were told he died in detention on Monday.
Dr Khan, a hand and nerve trauma surgeon, was on a six-month sabbatical from Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, when he travelled to Aleppo via Turkey.
Initially working alongside the UK charity Human Aid, he spent the first week treating injured refugees crossing the border before entering Syria.
The married father-of-two was detained and thrown in jail with no formal charge in November 2012.
His brother Afroze Khan, 34, told the BBC: ‘My brother was going to be released at the end of the week. We were given assurance by the Syrian government.
‘My brother knew that. He was ready to come back home. He was happy and looking forward to being released.’
He added the family was angry at the Foreign Office for ‘dragging their feet’ for more than a year.
A message on the Free Dr Abbas Khan Twitter feed said his life was ‘taken meaninglessly’. It added: ‘He was the best brother I could ever asked for and I know no one with a purer heart than him. His release was due to be this week.’
Amnesty International said Dr Khan’s death reinforced the need for Britain to press the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International’s UK Syria campaign manager, said: ‘We don’t know the full circumstances yet, but this is yet another deeply troubling death in custody in Syria.
‘We know all too well that the torture of detainees is widespread and committed with impunity by the Syrian authorities, with detainees often crowded into vermin-infested cells, denied urgently-needed medical treatment and even abused by medical staff.
‘The UK government should denounce Dr Khan’s death in the strongest possible terms and ensure that, no matter how long it takes, whoever is responsible is brought to justice.’
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.
Torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including children, is said to be widespread and committed by government forces and associated militias to extract information or ‘confessions’.
Detainees held in cramped, unsanitary conditions often suffer beatings, suspension by the limbs, being hung in a tyre, electric shocks and sexual abuse.
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.
He said: ‘I think we will have to wait for clarification on how exactly he died, but this is heartbreaking and devastating news for his family who have been working so hard for so long to secure his release. Particularly because his freedom had been agreed and he was due to return with me in the next few days.’
He added: ‘I have been in contact with the Syrian government many times, up to and including the president, the foreign minister, the justice minister and other ministers.
‘Last week I received a call from the foreign minister telling me that the president had asked him to contact me to come to Damascus to bring Dr Khan home before Christmas.
‘Obviously this had to be kept confidential but the family were kept fully informed. I was in the process of booking a flight for this Friday when I got the appalling news.’
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London said it was ‘urgently seeking’ confirmation from the Syrian authorities about Dr Khan’s fate.
An FCO spokesman said: ‘If these tragic reports are true, responsibility for Dr Khan’s death lies with them and we will be pressing for answers about what happened.
‘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 Hugh Robertson made clear the British Government’s concerns about Dr Khan’s welfare and treatment but the efforts were ignored.
All UK consular services in Syria have been suspended for some time and the FCO said it continues to advise against all travel to Syria
Source : Daily Mail