Concerned relatives of a British man arrested by Bangladeshi authorities after surviving an Isis terror attack are demanding his immediate release.
Hasnat Karim’s whereabouts were unconfirmed for more than a month after five gunmen burst into the Holey Artisan Bakery Café on 1 July as he celebrated his daughter’s 13th birthday with his family.
His wife, Sharmina Parveen, told The Independent that the militants forced him to carry out tasks and act as a human shield against police snipers during the 10-hour siege that ended with the murder of 20 hostages.
But authorities are believed to be treating him as an accomplice to the atrocity, alongside detained University of Toronto student Tahmid Hasib Khan, who also disappeared after being taken for questioning.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Police admitted the pair were being held on Thursday, saying they were formally arrested overnight under “section 54” – a law under which police can detain suspects for any crime without charge.
Mr Karim and Mr Khan later appeared in a magistrates’ court, where a judge granted permission for investigators to interrogate them for eight days in custody – two days short of the 10-day remand requested.
Bangladesh’s national police chief, AKM Shahidul Hoque, told reporters that the two men had fallen under suspicion as a result of their “behaviour and actions” during the siege.
Mr Karim’s family were dismayed by the news, which came after a month-long campaign to confirm where the father-of-two was being held.
His legal representatives say he was detained incommunicado, without access to family visits or lawyers for a month, and must be released immediately.
Rodney Dixon QC, his lawyer, said: “The authorities have finally admitted that Mr Karim is in their custody.
“They have had more than sufficient time to make any inquiries. There is clearly no evidence to charge him and she should be let go without any further delay.
“He is not a suspect and has not been charged. We therefore fully expect that he will be [released] promptly.”
Relatives say they are willing to fully cooperate with police to prove Mr Karim’s innocence, saying he has no links to Isis or to home-grown extremists, whom the government has blamed for the attack while continuing to deny the presence of foreign terror groups.
Mr Karim, 47, is a joint British-Bangladeshi national who lived, studied and worked in the UK for nearly 20 years before returning to his country of birth to teach.
He became a professor in the business faculty of Dhaka’s North South University, where one of the attackers was his student, in 2008 but has since left to run his father’s engineering business.
Police said there were photographs showing Mr Karim smoking on the rooftop of the building with two of the attackers standing behind him, as well as footage showing him talking to the gunmen, but relatives say he was forced to carry out tasks to save his family’s life.
His wife described how they and their two children had been celebrating their daughter’s birthday in the Holey Artisan Café when gunman burst in at around 9.30pm on 1 July.
“We were sitting for only a few minutes when we suddenly heard gunshots and screams coming from the seating outside the restaurant,” she told The Independent.
“Then suddenly the gunmen entered the restaurant. We were immediately asked if we were Muslim.” When we said yes, they asked us to put our heads down and said, ‘We love Muslims, you can trust us, we will not harm you’.”
The family were made to sit at a table with other hostages in silence at gunpoint before they were made to recite the first chapter of the Koran to be spared.
Mr Karim was then allegedly forced to carry out menial tasks and walk in front of the gunmen to form a shield against the snipers stationed outside, matching witness reports of a bald man walking to and fro.
“When the gunmen found out we were my husband’s family, that is when they picked him out as a human shield,” Ms Parveen said. “I think they chose him because they knew he would not run away if his family were there too.
“I cannot describe to you in words how it felt. They kept taking him away and then bringing him back and every time they took him I had no idea if we would ever see him again. “
Mr Karim and his family were eventually freed alongside other Bangladeshi Muslim hostages, who were immediately taken for questioning from which he never returned.
Security forces stormed the restaurant after 10 hours, killing the gunmen and rescuing the remaining 13 hostages, while finding the bodies of nine Italians, seven Japanese, three Bangladeshis and one Indian citizen.
Mr Khan’s family have also protested his innocence, saying he had returned home from Canada the day before the attack and studies at the University of Toronto. Relatives said he was at the café with two female friends, who were also students, but police said he was seen standing near the door with a gun during the siege.
Amnesty International is among the human rights organisations raising concern over the men’s continued detention. “While it is a positive step that Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan have been produced in court and formally arrested, the Bangladeshi authorities must now ensure that their rights in detention are being met, including access to a lawyer of their choosing, their families and any medical attention they may require,” a spokesperson said.
“We call on the Bangladeshi authorities to charge them promptly with a recognisable crime, in line with international law and standards, or else release them.
“There must be justice for the victims of the horrific attack in Dhaka, but Bangladesh must ensure that human rights are now not sacrificed in the name of national security.”
A Home Office report on prison conditions in Bangladesh said they were “so poor as to amount to inhuman or degrading treatment” and that cases of torture had been recently reported.
A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told The Independent that representatives were in contact with local authorities over Mr Karim’s case but could give no information on discussions.
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