Canada engages Bangladeshi officials after U of T student detained

Canada is engaging with Bangladeshi officials concerning the detention of a University of Toronto student in Dhaka, according to a lawyer for his brother.Tahmid Hasib Khan, who survived a hostage-taking in Bangladesh, has been in custody since a July 1 terrorist attack at a Dhaka cafe. (HO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A letter from Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s office, received by lawyer Marlys Edwardh late Tuesday, brought relief for the family of Tahmid Hasib Khan, 22, a permanent resident of Canada who has been in custody since a July 1 terrorist attack at a Dhaka café that killed 20 hostages.

Mr. Khan’s family is anxious for Canadian authorities to help establish access to him while he is being detained incommunicado by an unknown agency in the Bangladeshi capital.

Ms. Edwardh said Mr. Khan’s brother, Talha Khan, “is extremely relieved knowing that Canada is watching and, also, that the Bangladeshi authorities are aware of this fact.”

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada confirmed that a letter had been sent to Ms. Edwardh in response to her appeal to Ottawa.

“Officials from Global Affairs Canada both in Ottawa and at the Canadian High Commission in Dhaka continue to monitor the situation closely and are engaged with relevant Bangladeshi officials in the aftermath of this terrible attack,” Chantal Gagnon, Mr. Dion’s news secretary, said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

It is unclear whether Global Affairs would provide full consular assistance to Mr. Khan, who is due to start his fourth year of university in Toronto in the fall but is not a Canadian citizen.

A spokesperson for Mr. Dion confirmed that a letter had been sent, but would not comment on its content. “There are limits to what any country can do for individuals who are not citizens of that country,” a statement from Global Affairs said, adding that the government continues to monitor the situation closely.

Ms. Edwardh also confirmed she had been contacted by Omar Alghabra, Mr. Dion’s parliamentary secretary, who has arranged to speak to her and Mr. Khan’s brother about the situation this week. She said she will formally lay out the family’s request for intervention at that time.

“Obviously, from my perspective, what should now happen is that the government of Canada seek access to Tahmid to ensure his well-being and, also, seek an explanation for the reasons of his detention,” she said.

Two weeks since he survived the deadly terrorist attack in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave, Mr. Khan remains in custody and his whereabouts are still unknown. The overnight attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery left 23 dead, including several foreigners and two police officers, while the lives of Mr. Khan and several others were spared after a tense 11-hour hostage situation.

Eyewitnesses told the media that Mr. Khan, who was visiting family in Dhaka for the Muslim holiday of Eid before travelling to Nepal for a summer internship, was forced to carry a gun and accompany the attackers to the roof of the café during the ordeal. They also said he appealed for the release of the hostages, although police officials beat him after the rescue operation until bystanders intervened.

Mr. Khan’s family has not had any contact with him or an update on his health since July 3, when local police officials said he had been released after questioning, along with the other surviving hostages. No charges have been laid, and there has been no official confirmation by authorities that he is under arrest.

His family, who had previously been in touch with Mr. Khan through a police source, said they received a phone call from an agency a few days after the contact stopped, saying not to worry about his condition.

“We were assured that he was being kept in an air-conditioned room and that he was given food, and that’s important because he does suffer from epilepsy, and he needs some assistance with his environment to make sure he’s safe,” Ms. Edwardh said, speaking on behalf of the family.

Mr. Khan’s family has previously expressed concern about the lack of updates on his condition and location, stemming from a history of human-rights violations by Bangladeshi law enforcement against people detained without access to legal representation or family members.

A spokesperson for the University of Toronto said the school had not received a response to a letter sent by the president expressing “concern for the safety and fair treatment” of Mr. Khan, and asking Global Affairs to advocate for access to legal counsel and consular services, and for treatment in accordance with international laws.

Ms. Edwardh said she also sent a letter to the Bangladeshi High Commissioner in Ottawa last week, asking him to facilitate consular access by Canadian officials, but has not received a response. Officials could not be reached for comment.

Most of the five armed attackers behind the carnage, for which the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility, were identified as well-educated, young Bangladeshi men belonging to affluent families, including the son of a politician in Bangladesh’s ruling party. Four of them died during an operation by commandos, while a fifth was captured alive.

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