18/12/2013 04:40 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Dr Abbas Khan's Family Criticise FCO After British Surgeon's Death In Syria


The family of a British surgeon who died after more than a year in detention in Syria pleaded for more than a year with the Foreign Office to do more to save him - saying he was treated like "a wayward traveller in Dubai being caught drunk."

Dr Abbas Khan, 32, an orthopaedic surgeon from Streatham, south London, was seized by Assad troops in the rebel-held city of Aleppo in November last year. He had entered the country without a visa, to join a medical team.

Syria's 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".

Shahnawaz Khan, one of Dr Khan's brothers, said it was "interesting" that the Foreign Office had said they were now urgently investigating.

"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."

Khan said his family were "in utter despair" at his brother's death just a few days before he was due to arrive home. "But we are also proud that he died doing something he believed in and helping people who were in desperate need."

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who represents Dr Khan's home of Streatham, said he had been urging the Foreign Office to act for 12 months. "His family have made it very clear to me that they believe he was killed by the Syrian regime. Their priority now is to secure the repatriation of his body and I see no reason why that request cannot be honoured by the Syrian regime immediately.

"I have written formally this morning to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, asking him to give his urgent attention to securing this repatriation. I have also asked him to meet with Dr Khan’s family so that they can discuss the handling of this matter by the Foreign Office with him."

Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway, who had been negotiating with the Syrian authorities to secure Dr Khan's freedom, said he believed someone in the Syrian regime had killed Dr Khan in defiance of President Assad's decision to release him.

The MP said it was completely unbelievable that Dr Khan would have taken his own life when he was due to be released so soon,, telling the Independent: "As yet no satisfactory explanation has been given to me. The idea of a man committing suicide four days before he was due to be released is impossible to believe."

Dr Khan had written to his family expressing his joy over his expected release, but also wrote of his horrifying treatment, including being forced to beat other prisoners and denied access to toilets, and being kept in filthy conditions. "My detention has included repeated beatings, largely for the pleasure of my captors," he wrote.

Mekdad disputed this, and told the BBC: "I don't think there is an intelligence in Syria who do not implement what they are instructed to do. Dr Khan was treated very well, very nicely."