Dr Abbas Khan, from south London has died in custody in Syria, according to family members

Doctor Abbas Khan, from south London has died in custody in Syria, according to family members

British surgeon Dr Abbas Khan, imprisoned in Syria for over a year, has died in detention, his family has told the BBC

By Alex Spillius, and Ruth Sherlock, Telegraph


 Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon, has died in Syria just days before his promised release, family members said.

Syrian authorities have claimed to the family that Dr Khan was found to have “committed suicide”, hanging by his pyjamas in his cell.

However, the family dismiss that claim. Relatives of prisoners who were with Dr Khan in Adra jail in Damascus have reportedly contested this statement, arguing that the doctor had disappeared at some point earlier, taken from his cell by guards.

His mother Fatima Khan had been allowed to visit several times, and went to his prison last night believing he would be freed. Instead, she was told he had died.

The Free Dr Abbas Khan Twitter account run by his brother Afroze, said: “Dear All, I sorrowfully inform you of the news that Dr Abbas Khan was killed yesterday. An innocents [sic] life was taken meaninglessly. He was the best brother I could have ever asked for and I know no one with a purer heart than him.

Moved by the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict, Dr Khan travelled to the city of Aleppo last year to help civilians but was seized just days after crossing the border from Turkey.

His brother Afroze said the Syrian security agency had promised his release this week but on Monday it said he had died.

Mr Khan, 34, said: “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 added that the family was “devastated, distraught and we are angry at the Foreign Office for dragging their feet for 13 months”.

George Galloway, the Bradford West MP, had been negotiating for months with the Syrian government over the release of Dr Khan and was due to fly out this week to bring him home.

“I think we will have to wait for clarification on how exactly he died,” said Galloway, “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. My sincere condolences go out to his family whose pain is unbearable,” he said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are extremely concerned by reports that a British national has died in detention in Syria.

“We are urgently seeking clarification of this from the Syrian authorities.”

Dr Khan, from Streatham, is said to have entered the country via Turkey, without a visa, on Nov 14, 2012 and worked at a field hospital in rebel–controlled Saraqeb, south–east of Idlib.

At the time, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was told that Dr Khan was arrested with one or more other people at a government checkpoint on the way to Aleppo on Nov 22.

The death of a British national in a Damascus jail is likely to put pressure on the Syrian government for a fuller explanation of how Mr Khan’s death came about. It will also shine a spotlight on the appalling conditions in which tens of thousands of prisoners are kept in Syrian detention centres, where the use of torture is routine.

His mother was able to see her son four times during his year long detention. She said that she had found her son weighing just five stone and barely able to walk. He told her that he had been tortured, and kept in solitary confinement.

After a visit earlier this month Afroze Khan, Abbas’ brother, told the BBC that he was worried that his Dr Khan was depressed and that “there is a real possibility he may want to harm himself”.

He showed the BBC copies of two letters that Dr Khan wrote in detention and had given his mother to pass to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.

In one he wrote: “My detention has included repeated and severe beatings, largely for no reason other than the pleasure of my captors. In addition I have been violently forced to beat other prisoners, kept in squalid conditions, denied access to toilets or medical treatment.”

One of the politicians the family contacted was Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, who went to the same school as Dr Khan in Tooting. The MP said earlier this year: ‘The bravery and determination of Dr Khan’s mother, who has been in Syria searching for her son these last four months, is incredibly moving.”

This week, after a hellish year, it had seemed that the end was in sight.

News of Dr Khan’s death caused an outpouring of anger and bereavement on social networking sites. Syrian activists and medical organisations posted eulogies to Mr Khan’s bravery in travelling to Syria.

Global Aid Project, a London based charity providing humanitarian assistance to Syria, on its Facebook page, thanked Dr Khan for “courageously donating his time in a Syrian Hospital to alleviate the suffering for children”.

His death was condemned by Amnesty International.

“We don’t know the full circumstances yet, but this yet another deeply troubling death in custody in Syria,” said Kristyan Benedict, UK Syria campaign manager.

“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.

“Dr Khan’s tragic death reinforces the need for the UK to continue pressing for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Cour

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