BEIRUT: The International Committee for the Red Cross has told The Daily Star Friday it did not participate in an autopsy of a British doctor who died in Syrian custody this week, as claimed by the Syrian government.
Media reports, quoting Syrian government officials, said that the agency had assisted in a government autopsy on Dr. Abbas Khan, whose body was due to arrive in Beirut ahead of repatriation to the UK Friday.
“We’re not involved in any autopsy,” Simon Schorno, the ICRC spokesperson in Damascus, told The Daily Star. Schorno added that the aid agency accepted the Syrian government’s request to observe a medical exam, although the ICRC delegate who was present was not a doctor.
“At the family's request, the Syrian authorities and International Committee of the Red Cross are carrying out a final autopsy to find out the causes of Abbas Khan's death," Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted as saying in Agence France Presse on Thursday.
Khan, a 32-year-old doctor from south London, had been treating wounded civilians in northern Syria when he was arrested by state authorities just over a year ago. He was due to be released from detention Friday, but on Tuesday, Syrian government officials said he had been found dead in his cell in an apparent suicide.
Khan’s family have rejected claims Khan killed himself so close to his release and have released handwritten letters from Khan to his seven-year-old daughter saying that he was looking forward to seeing her soon. A UK member of parliament has accused the Syrian government of “murder”.
Friday evening the ICRC told AFP that Khan’s body would be released Saturday, but did not say why there had been a delay.
Mekdad has previously told the news service that the body would be repatriated to the UK through the British embassy in Beirut by Friday “at the latest.”
“We will be assisting with the repatriation [to the UK] driving to Lebanon,” Shorno said.
The British embassy in Lebanon has declined to comment on the case.
“There is no excuse whatsoever for the treatment that he has suffered by the Syrian authorities who have in effect murdered a British national who was in their country to help people,” Hugh Robertson, a British government minister at the Foreign Office, said in a televised statement.