Doctor forced to marry 'was drugged by relatives'

Annulment sought as lawyers describe woman's ordeal in Bangladesh
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The Independent Online

Harrowing details of Humayra Abedin's four-month incarceration at the hands of her parents in Bangladesh came to light yesterday as the 32-year-old NHS doctor successfully obtained a series of injunctions in the High Court that forbid anyone taking her out of Britain against her will.

Dr Abedin was forced to marry a family friend after she disappeared during what was supposed to be a brief visit to Bangladesh to see her mother. Her Muslim parents disapproved of her relationship with a British Hindu man she met while working as a GP.

In a detailed statement released to the media yesterday, Dr Abedin's lawyers explained how their client, an intelligent and successful doctor who came to Britain six years ago, was forcibly detained by her family members for four months and was given sedatives to keep her docile.

She was also held in a psychiatric ward, where her forced medication continued. Later she was forced to marry a friend of the family in a secretive wedding ceremony presided over by an official government registrar.

According to the statement, Dr Abedin visited her family on 5 August after being falsely informed that her mother was ill. On arrival in Dhaka she was "manhandled" into the family home by a number of people and "immediately locked in a room". She was guarded by four to five family members at any one time and her passport and plane tickets were taken away. Five days later a cousin allegedly forced her to take two tablets which made her feel very drowsy.

On 13 August representatives of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a respected Bangladeshi human rights group, tried to visit Dr Abedin. They had been alerted by desperate text messages she had managed to send to friends in Britain. But as punishment for alerting the authorities, her family took away her mobile phone and locked her in a hospital for the mentally ill, she said.

If Dr Abedin's statement is correct, there is growing evidence to suggest that local police authorities and a number of doctors may have colluded with her parents. Hours after ASK's visit, people claiming to be police inspectors came and said they needed to speak to her. "Following [Dr Abedin's] refusal to go with them," the statement reads, "her hands were tied behind her back and her head was covered with a cloth. She was screaming for assistance." She was placed in an ambulance and gagged so forcefully that "at one point she believed she would suffocate".

According to the testimony, Dr Abedin was taken to the "High Tech Modern Psychiatric Hospital" in Dhaka, where she was regularly injected with drugs. Her mother, Begum Sufia Kamal, was present throughout and doctors allegedly said she would only be released if she promised to quit her job in the UK and vow never to return or associate with her friends there.

On 5 November, Dr Abedin was moved to Jessore, 87 miles west of Dhaka. She was later forced to marry Dr Khondokar Mohammad Abdul Jalal, a friend of the family whose marriage request she had earlier refused.

Only when a Bangladeshi court ordered her release on 14 December was she allowed to return to Britain.

Jasvinder Sanghera, a former forced marriage victim in the UK who now runs a Derby-based charity to prevent such crimes, said yesterday that it was not unusual for officials to collude. "In much of the Asian community these things are regarded as family matters, not as they should be, which is a criminal act. Even in Britain we've come across victims who say doctors, counsellors and police officers have broken confidentiality by informing family members of what is going on."

Dr Abedin, who is seeking to have her marriage annulled through the British courts, made it clear yesterday that she had no intention of bringing any charges against her parents, although The Independent understands that lawyers in Dhaka are now investigating what role doctors at the psychiatric hospital may have played.

Dr Abedin appeared at the High Court yesterday as Mr Justice Coleridge granted a series of injunctions preventing her removal from Britain. He stressed that the courts will act "swiftly and decisively" in any such case were there was such a "gross abuse" of human rights.

Dr Abedin said she was looking forward to returning to work. Asked what she would say to other men and women facing forced marriages, she said: "Don't give up hope, there is hope."

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