The British government knew two Britons facing criminal charges were tortured in Pakistan but did nothing to stop it, lawyers said on Tuesday, echoing allegations of official complicity in abuse of terrorism suspects overseas.
Reprieve, a UK-based group of human rights lawyers, said Naheem Hussain, 24, and Rehan Zaman, 25, faced the death penalty in Pakistan after being arrested on a visit to the country and tortured to confess to a murder they say they did not commit.
Naheem Hussain’s father Fazal, who was arrested along with the pair in 2004, told a news conference in London he and the two were beaten, kicked and hung from ceiling hooks, and British diplomats were aware of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.
‘What this case demonstrates is a complete casualness about really vicious torture,’ Fazal Hussain’s local parliamentarian Clare Short said of the response of the British authorities.
She said Britain had failed ‘to take any action to protect a British citizen subjected to torture to get them to make a false confession to an offence that carries the death penalty.’ ‘Any British person who travels should be very frightened by that...The family have been through hell.’
Fazal Hussain, 56, was eventually released in 2005 after being diagnosed with diabetes and jaundice and returned to the UK, where he has launched a campaign for the men’s release.
There was no immediate response to email and phoned requests for comment to the Pakistani High Commission (embassy) in London.
Reprieve director Clive Stafford-Smith said the British government had told him it had had instructions from a lawyer hired by the Hussain family to ‘keep quiet about the torture.’
‘What we need is a very independent review about how the government could accept (such) a statement ... when it is a criminal offence to cover up evidence of torture,’ he said.
Stafford-Smith said Britain had a duty to address torture allegations made by its citizens under the UN Convention Against Torture and other instruments of international law.
A Foreign Office statement said it had been in touch with Rehan Zaman and Naheem Hussain since their arrest in 2004 and it took any allegations of mistreatment or torture seriously.
‘We actively sought their agreement through their legal representatives to raise their allegations with the Pakistani authorities. We were requested by lawyers for the individuals not to pursue this with the Pakistani authorities,’ it said.
‘Without the agreement of the individuals concerned it is UK policy not to follow up allegations of torture or mistreatment with foreign governments.’
The British government is under fire separately from rights groups for its refusal to release evidence on the alleged torture of an inmate at the Guantanamo Bay camp, and for its complicity with the United States in the secret detention of terrorism suspects. - Reuters