Epsom and St Helier surgeon from Streatham dies in Syrian prison cell after months of torture

Streatham Guardian: Dr Abbas Khan Dr Abbas Khan

A British surgeon who travelled to war-torn Syria to help save women and children has died in prison just days before he was due to be released.

Dr Abbas Khan, 32, a father-of-two from Streatham, was arrested within 48 hours of crossing the border from Turkey into Syria in November last year.

Dr Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon, was held for eight months in an underground cell where he was tortured and beaten by interrogators.

His mother Fatima Khan, 57, from Mitcham, tracked him down four months ago after travelling by herself to Damascus and managed to get him moved from the notorious Far’ Falastin detention centre to another jail.

His family have received numerous letters from him describing how he was looking forward to his imminent release.

The circumstances surrounding his death are unclear at this stage but it is understood he died yesterday in a Damascus prison.

Streatham's MP, Chuka Umunna, has called for Dr Khan's body to be repatriated to the UK.

Streatham Guardian:

A Syrian government official told BBC News Dr Khan committed suicide in his prison cell on Monday morning. However, his family are refusing to accept this.

His brother Dr Afroze Khan, 34, spoke from Heathrow Airport this morning before flying on to Beirut, and on to meet his mother in Damascus, to try and secure the return of his brother’s body.

He said: "We are devastated. We don’t know what happened but we know he died in captivity in the national security headquarters in Damascus.

"He died whilst in detention – why I don’t know. He was looking forward to being released this week and had plans in place. We were told by the government they were planning to release him.

"My mother has been there for the last four months and was told on many occasions they were planning to release him. It is highly suspicious.

"He went to help people and it resulted in his death. He was inspired to use his skills as a doctor to help other people.

"He was in between jobs on a sabbatical from work – he saw the Syrian conflict and thought it was the ideal place he could use his skills.

"The time for pressure has gone. The British Government has failed my brother. It’s an absolute failure on behalf of the British Government.

"He was the best brother I could have ever asked for and I know no one with a purer heart than him."

Dr Khan told his mother he had been accused of treating dying civilians which had been classed as an act of terrorism.

Streatham Guardian:

Dr Khan with his mother Fatima and brother Afroze

Dr Khan, a British national of Indian origin, had no personal ties with Syria but seized the opportunity to help others during his sabbatical.

After he was captured a worldwide campaign was launched secure his release and this week his family called on foreign secretary William Hague to increase efforts to bring him home.

He worked for the Epsom and St Helier University Hospital trust between August 2011 and January 2012 where he was a Research Fellow at the Elective Orthopaedic Centre (EOC) based at Epsom Hospital. He also worked for the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore.

Streatham Guardian: Man with a plan: Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of Epsom and St Helier Hospital Trust

The trust's chief executive, Matthew Hopkins, said "On behalf of the trust we would like to pass on our deepest sympathies to Dr Khan’s family at this very sad time."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are extremely concerned by reports that Dr Khan has died in detention in Syria and are urgently seeking confirmation from the Syrian authorities. 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 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.

“All UK consular services in Syria were suspended some time ago and we continue to advise against all travel to Syria.”

Did you know Dr Khan? Leave a tribute below or email ssleigh@london.newsquest.co.uk.

Comments (10)

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1:31pm Tue 17 Dec 13

Sutton53 says...

The British Government pay lip service to deaths overseas involving a British National. Trying to get justice for a loved one who dies overseas in a non-Eu Country is like wading through treacle They simply do not care. Meanwhile the relatives are left devastated with no answers. Leave no stone unturned when trying to find out the truth.
The British Government pay lip service to deaths overseas involving a British National. Trying to get justice for a loved one who dies overseas in a non-Eu Country is like wading through treacle They simply do not care. Meanwhile the relatives are left devastated with no answers. Leave no stone unturned when trying to find out the truth. Sutton53

1:35pm Tue 17 Dec 13

trasie says...

The British Government asked for help from Russia and others to release Dr Khan. If the Russians couldn't help, how can you expect the British Government to help. Russia is Syria's alley, not Britain.
The British Government asked for help from Russia and others to release Dr Khan. If the Russians couldn't help, how can you expect the British Government to help. Russia is Syria's alley, not Britain. trasie

1:56pm Tue 17 Dec 13

suttonmanager says...

Syria is a minefield of politics, I'm afraid to say that this gent would of known the risks that faced him when he crossed into Syria, well done to him for wanting to assist in this grave situation but it comes with the territory.

As for the governments assistance, when it comes to Brits abroad, there is always the 'International situation' that comes with these things,civil servants for example caught in countries will be left there for the risk of upsetting the balance of favours that can be done, as for the Russians helping, don't be fooled, the help they have put in for Syria is not for the benefit of the world or Syrian people, but purely what the Russians can get out of it so Dr. Khan was never going to benefit from the Ruskis.
Syria is a minefield of politics, I'm afraid to say that this gent would of known the risks that faced him when he crossed into Syria, well done to him for wanting to assist in this grave situation but it comes with the territory. As for the governments assistance, when it comes to Brits abroad, there is always the 'International situation' that comes with these things,civil servants for example caught in countries will be left there for the risk of upsetting the balance of favours that can be done, as for the Russians helping, don't be fooled, the help they have put in for Syria is not for the benefit of the world or Syrian people, but purely what the Russians can get out of it so Dr. Khan was never going to benefit from the Ruskis. suttonmanager

2:06pm Tue 17 Dec 13

emelem says...

"Dr Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon, was held for eight months in an underground cell where he was tortured and beaten by interrogators."

what is *wrong* with people?!?!?!??!

sigh....:(
"Dr Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon, was held for eight months in an underground cell where he was tortured and beaten by interrogators." what is *wrong* with people?!?!?!??! sigh....:( emelem

2:21pm Tue 17 Dec 13

Niki R says...

Just tragic- a man wants to do good for civilians caught up in conflict and loses his life in a horrific way. Love and strength to his family, friends and colleagues, who must be lost for answers and peace.
Just tragic- a man wants to do good for civilians caught up in conflict and loses his life in a horrific way. Love and strength to his family, friends and colleagues, who must be lost for answers and peace. Niki R

3:41pm Tue 17 Dec 13

CPN says...

This just makes me so sad - a good man, horribly killed. Thoughts are his family, especially his children, who I hope are old enough to have happy memories of him
This just makes me so sad - a good man, horribly killed. Thoughts are his family, especially his children, who I hope are old enough to have happy memories of him CPN

3:55pm Tue 17 Dec 13

suttonmanager says...

I just hope that someone at the foreign office can answer the questions that the family will have, the only problem is the answers will be the same, we cannot comment on individual cases or the foreign office will today have no one available for comment.
I just hope that someone at the foreign office can answer the questions that the family will have, the only problem is the answers will be the same, we cannot comment on individual cases or the foreign office will today have no one available for comment. suttonmanager

5:11pm Tue 17 Dec 13

GreenBrown says...

"The time for pressure has gone. The British Government has failed my brother. It’s an absolute failure on behalf of the British Government."

This was a risky thing to do and he paid the ultimate price. I don't really see what the British government could have done about this. They didn't ask him to go and I'm sure the foreign office has a warning in place advising people against travelling to Syria. It's a war zone! If he was of Indian descent I suspect he probably had dual citizenship, was the Indian government asked to help at all. You wouldn't get me going out to a place like that, but then I wouldn't feel the need to would I. Deep down, It's the real ties that pull us.
"The time for pressure has gone. The British Government has failed my brother. It’s an absolute failure on behalf of the British Government." This was a risky thing to do and he paid the ultimate price. I don't really see what the British government could have done about this. They didn't ask him to go and I'm sure the foreign office has a warning in place advising people against travelling to Syria. It's a war zone! If he was of Indian descent I suspect he probably had dual citizenship, was the Indian government asked to help at all. You wouldn't get me going out to a place like that, but then I wouldn't feel the need to would I. Deep down, It's the real ties that pull us. GreenBrown

8:02pm Tue 17 Dec 13

suttonmanager says...

Just because you wouldn't there are some people who can offer assistance, regardless of whether they advise against travel the guy was out there, two years in captivity, Terry Waite springs to mind........The British government along with the US have this " we don't negotiate with.." policy, it puts lives at risk unnecessarily, as for real ties, what does that mean in todays society??
Just because you wouldn't there are some people who can offer assistance, regardless of whether they advise against travel the guy was out there, two years in captivity, Terry Waite springs to mind........The British government along with the US have this " we don't negotiate with.." policy, it puts lives at risk unnecessarily, as for real ties, what does that mean in todays society?? suttonmanager

12:27am Wed 18 Dec 13

GreenBrown says...

"The British government along with the US have this " we don't negotiate with.." policy, it puts lives at risk unnecessarily,

No, travelling to war torn areas puts lives at risk. Our governments are right not to negotiate with people who kidnap and ransom people. Missionaries, volunteers, security workers etc, they all take a chance and that's their right, but don't complain when it goes wrong.
"The British government along with the US have this " we don't negotiate with.." policy, it puts lives at risk unnecessarily, No, travelling to war torn areas puts lives at risk. Our governments are right not to negotiate with people who kidnap and ransom people. Missionaries, volunteers, security workers etc, they all take a chance and that's their right, but don't complain when it goes wrong. GreenBrown

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