Epsom and St Helier surgeon from Streatham dies in Syrian prison cell after months of torture
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
Comments are closed on this article.