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The Syrian regime has a long history of murder, torture, abductions, assassinations, unexplained deaths, disappearances and executions. It is now very relevant to ask if it murdered Abbas Khan to silence him, and if so whether it will succeed.
A panel of U.N. investigators said on Thursday 19th December that it believes the Syrian government is committing a crime against humanity by making people systematically vanish. In a report based on interviews with survivors and family members of victims, the panel said the war tactic being used by President Bashar Assad's government amounts to a crime against humanity because it is part of a policy of spreading terror and mental anguish among those left wondering about their loved ones. There nhave been plenty of examples cited.
The Washington Post reported on 13th October 2013 that the award winning cartoonist Akram Raslan was slain by the Syrian government forces.
The Huffington Post reported on 27th July 2011 that the Syrian singer Ibrahim Qashoush's body was dumped in the river flowing through his hometown, his killers added an obvious message: His throat was carved out. His crime was to sing anti-regime lyrics.
On 26th August various media outlets reported that one of Syria's most famous artists, Ali Ferzat, 60, was receiving medical treatment for a crushed hand. Ferzat earned international recognition and the respect of many Arabs with stinging caricatures that infuriated dictators including Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and, particularly in recent months, Syria's autocratic Assad family. The Syrian regime decided to chop off his fingers and crush his hand.
There have been many similar cases of extreme brutality. I would argue that the same thuggish mentality is responsible for the murder of Abbas Khan the British doctor, whose body is now en route to an independent autopsy in the UK..
We must remember that power in Syria is concentrated in the hands of Bashar al Assad and his henchmen who run the security services which are notorious for their brutality. The same mindless and uncontrolled violence by the security services explains the death of Dr Abbas Khan, a 32 year old orthopaedic surgeon from Streatham, south London, who 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 to treat injured children. Khan was described as brave and conscientious humanitarian who tried to ease the suffering of those caught in the civil war.
Dr Abbas Khan, was held in an underground cell. He is said to have lost half his body weight due to his brutal treatment. According to an Evening Standard report 17th December: "In two handwritten letters, passed to Foreign Secretary William Hague by his mother, Dr Khan wrote: "I have been violently forced to beat other prisoners, kept in squalid conditions, denied access to toilets or medical treatment. Repeated bouts of diarrhoea and chronic dermatological infection saw me lose 40-50 per cent of my body weight. I have also experienced male prisoners being beaten to death and female prisoners screaming as they were being abused."
In a second letter, he said: "I have been subject to several episodes of severe violence and degrading treatment in appalling and inhumane conditions." Dr Khan's brother was flying to Beirut where his mother is staying to try to get his body home.
Abbas Khan was an articulate, educated medical professional who had accumulated lot of information and first-hand details about the appalling conditions in the hell-holes of the Syrian regime prison system. Such information if revealed to the media by such a credible witness would embarrass and incriminate the regime. He could not be allowed to bear witness after his release.
The Syrian authorities told his mother he had hanged himself with his pyjamas in an interrogation centre in Damascus. This was rejected by his family who blamed the "barbaric regime" holding him for his death.
They said he was due to be released and "couldn't wait to be back". Even MP George Galloway, who is known for his support for brutal Arab dictators, and who was about to fly out to collect him, said: "The idea of a man committing suicide four days before he was to be released is impossible to believe. We need an explanation."
Fatima Khan, his mother who had travelled to Damascus ahead of what was supposed to be Dr Abbas Khan's release after more than a year in prison, said he was made an example of by President Bashar al-Assad's government.
"They [the Syrian government] take all of their anger with the British Government by killing a minor, a minor person who did not kill an ant in his life. They were angry with the British Government," Mrs Khan said in a tearful interview recently. "They did not want him to leave the country"
He hasn't left Syria alive. But his body may yet furnish the proof of the brutality that has become an instrument of policy of the Syrian regime.
nehad ismail is a UK based writer/broadcaster and commentator on Middle Eastern Affairs