Doctor freed after court forbids forced marriage

Legal landmark as Bangladeshi authorities apply new British law

Ian Johnston
Monday 15 December 2008 01:00 GMT

An NHS doctor who was held captive by her parents in Bangladesh in an attempt to force her into marriage to a stranger has been freed and is to return to Britain.

The parents of Dr Humayra Abedin, a 33-year-old trainee GP, were ordered by a judge in Bangladesh to return her passport, driver's licence and credit card after they finally answered a summons to present her to the court.

Her lawyers said the case set a precedent in Bangladesh and it is also one of the first cases where legal action was taken in the UK since the Forced Marriages Act became law last month.

Dr Abedin, who came to Britain six years ago to study for a Masters degree in public health at Leeds University and was due to become a registrar at a GP surgery in east London, travelled to Bangladesh after being told her mother was seriously ill.

No one in the UK had heard from her for about three months, until she managed to secretly contact friends in the past few days. In a text message sent to one friend, she said: "Please help me. My life is in danger. They have locked me in the house. My job is at stake. They are making my life hell."

But yesterday that hell appeared to be at an end after her parents appeared for a court hearing in Dhaka, where they were facing contempt charges for ignoring earlier summons.

Ordering her family to allow her to travel freely, Judge Syed Mahmud Hossain said: "It perplexes me as to why the parents kept her confined and interfered with her personal life." He said he would not reveal Dr Abedin's testimony, which was held in private, as it contained what he described as "objectional elements".

The judge also confirmed no action would be taken against her parents, partly in respect of their daughter's wishes. "But I am saying what you [the parents] have done to her is not acceptable," he said. "If there are further problems, you will be in big trouble."

Dr Abedin's father, Mohammed Joynal Abedin, a retired businessman, appeared to collapse on hearing the verdict. He continued to claim they had done nothing wrong. "She has not been held captive. These allegations are all false," he said.

It is thought Dr Abebin's relationship with a Hindu Bangladeshi software engineer prompted her Muslim parents to intervene. Since May, her family made several attempts to force her to marry someone else. The Metropolitan Police began investigating in June when she was allegedly held in her flat by her mother and uncle for several days during a visit.

Speaking outside the court, her boyfriend, 44, claimed his family had received death threats and that Dr Abedin's parents told her "they'd prefer her to die than return to London".

Dr Abedin's lawyer, Sara Hossain, said her client was hoping to fly back in Britain either late last night or today. "She's free to go. She's been set at liberty and she wants to return to the UK. We're delighted. Our courts have shown that we can guarantee the liberty of our citizens. This is quite a precedent. Dr Abedin looks very relieved, she's a very brave woman."

Two months ago, the Foreign Office issued a protection order under the Forced Marriage Act, even though this was not enforceable overseas because Dr Abedin is not British. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the order was issued in the hope that it might "carry some weight" in Bangladesh.

"Forced marriage is an appalling and indefensible practice that the Government is working hard to stop," she said. "It is quite complicated purely because she is a Bangladeshi national and as such we cannot offer her formal consular assistance. However the high commission is meeting with her to try and establish the requirements of the court order."

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