Mother’s battle 
to free son from 
Syrian jail hell

The family of a British doctor who died in a prison in Syria made “superhuman” efforts to secure his release, an inquest into his death has heard.

A jury of seven men and four women was told by a coroner how the family tried to win freedom for orthopaedic surgeon Abbas Khan.

At the start of an inquest set to last around three weeks at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, chief coroner Judge Peter Thornton told jurors that the medic’s mother Fatima had been “extraordinarily persistent”.

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Dr Khan, a father of two from London, died while being held in custody by Syrian government officials last December.

He was captured in the city of Aleppo in November 2012 after travelling from Turkey to help victims of hospital bombings.

His family claim he was murdered. The Syrian government says Dr Khan killed himself and that he was found hanging.

The coroner said Dr Khan, aged 32, was found “allegedly hanged” while in custody in Damascus on December 16, 2013.

The jury would hear that he was a “family man”, and also a “respected” medical man who used his medical skills to help others.

On November 22, 2012. Dr Khan, who was working in a hospital, went out for a walk when he was detained and “was never a free man again”.

Just over a year later Dr Khan was found dead, he said.

“During that period of a year while in custody his family made superhuman efforts to try to get him released. In particular, his mother Fatima was extraordinarily persistent.”

The coroner said the main issues for the jury to consider after hearing all the evidence were likely to be – did Dr Khan take his own life, or was he “forced in some way by his captors to take his own life against his will”, or was he “unlawfully killed” by his captors.

Fatima Khan told the jury that in July last year she went to Syria and visited a number of embassies, ministries and prisons to try to find out where he was.

Some of the buildings she went to were shaken by bomb blasts and vans she travelled in came under sniper fire.

“I felt scared, but my son was here so I had to be brave.”

She would kiss the shoes of the officials she met and beg them to help her. At the end of that month, she saw her son at the Court of Terrorism.

“I hugged him. He was a skeleton. He was in tears. I said, ‘Look, mummy is here for you’. He said, ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have come here, please take me home’.

“His hands were cold as if he was fasting. They were full of black marks and one nail was missing as if someone had taken it off. His feet were completely burnt.”

She threw herself at the judge’s feet and begged for mercy but her son was taken away.

Mrs Khan said that when she visited him there at the end of August, he said the conditions were much better.

He said the previous prison was “like Hell” with seven prisoners sharing an eight feet square cell 24 hours a day.

He said he was beaten up by other inmates and interrogated by five men who beat him with rubber hoses, leaving him with open wounds which became infected. He said he had seen guards beating a 12-year-old boy who was crying for his mother and had seen a prisoner kicked and beaten to death.

The hearing continues.