British man at centre of torture claims returns from Bangladesh
Foreign Office repatriates Faisal Mostafa but second ‘tortured’ Briton remains in detention
Ian Cobain, and Fariha Karim in Dhaka
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 June 2010 17.01 BST
A British man who was allegedly tortured in Bangladesh while being questioned about his associates and activities in Britain has been flown back to the UK with the assistance of the Foreign Office.
Faisal Mostafa, whose detention raised further concerns about British complicity in torture, was repatriated after negotiations with the UK government.
A second British national at the centre of torture allegations remains in custody in Bangladesh. Gulam Mustafa, a 48-year-old businessman from Birmingham, is also said to have suffered severe torture while being interrogated about mosques in his home city, associates and fundraising activities in the UK.
His alleged mistreatment is said to have ended four days before the British general election, when he was transferred from an interrogation centre in Dhaka to a prison hospital for treatment of injuries suffered during questioning.
Mostafa, 46, a chemist from Stockport, was detained in Bangladesh in March last year on terrorism-related firearms charges. He was accused of running a bomb factory at a madrassa funded by his British-based charity, Green Crescent Bangladesh UK.
He was released on bail in February for treatment for renal failure. His repatriation last week came a few days after the British authorities learned that the Guardian was planning to report on his case.
Mostafa’s lawyers say his ill health is partly a result of torture. They say he was suspended from his wrists for days at a time, hung upside down, subjected to electric shocks, beaten on the soles of his feet, deprived of food and exposed to bright lights for long periods. He is said by close friends to have suffered a number of wounds in his arms and other parts of his body that he says were inflicted by an electric drill.
Throughout the period he was being tortured, his lawyers said, he was questioned largely about his associates and activities in the UK, including his work for the Muslim parliament in London.
Bangladeshi officials have refused to comment on his repatriation but say the terrorism-related charges have not been dropped. He could be tried in his absence if he did not return to the country, they said.
The Foreign Office declined to answer questions about its role in Mostafa’s repatriation or say whether it had made any representations about his allegations of mistreatment.
A spokesperson said: “We take all allegations of torture and mistreatment very seriously and raise them as appropriate with the relevant authorities. We will never condone the use of torture.”
The UK high commission in Dhaka said it had “made the Bangladeshi authorities aware of a number of issues” concerning Mostafa’s case, and pressed them to treat him according to international standards. But it would not say whether it had made any complaints.
Mostafa came to the attention of British police and MI5 in the mid-90s, having been tried and acquitted on charges of conspiring to cause explosions in 1996. He was sentenced to four years for illegal possession of a pistol with intent to endanger life.
Four years later he was arrested after police and MI5 officers discovered chemicals that could be used to produce the high explosive HMTD at a house in Birmingham. Traces of the explosive were also found on the pinstripe jacket he was wearing at the time of his arrest.
Mostafa was acquitted although his co-defendant was convicted and jailed for 20 years. In 2006 John Reid, the then home secretary, cited this case when he said al-Qaida’s plots against the UK preceded British involvement in the invasion of Iraq or the war in Afghanistan.
Counter-terrorism officers in Dhaka said they had investigated about a dozen British nationals in recent years at the request of UK intelligence officials. One senior Bangladeshi officer told the Guardian that this was done in a manner that would have been unlawful in the UK “because of the question of human rights“, but declined to elaborate.
British security and intelligence officials warned three years ago that significant numbers of Britons were travelling to Bangladesh to train in terrorist techniques.
The country remains a concern to UK officials.
Known or suspected plots with links to Pakistan have reduced slightly in number, while Somalia, Yemen and Bangladesh are said to pose potential problems. It is thought that one British-Bangladeshi man has killed himself in a suicide bomb attack, possibly in Afghanistan.
Mustafa, 48, a businessman from Birmingham, whose UK assets were frozen three years ago under counter-terrorism powers, was detained in April and held in a detention centre known as the Taskforce for Interrogation Cell, where the use of torture is alleged to be common.
When he appeared in court 11 days after police announced his arrest, a journalist working for the Guardian could see that he was unable to stand throughout the proceedings. At one point he sank to his knees.
His family’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, complained to the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, in a letter that stated: “It is already well known that MI5 has been co-operating with the Bangladeshi authorities and providing and exchanging information with them about Mr Mustafa.” Miliband’s reply did not address the allegations of MI5 complicity. Last week the Foreign Office declined to say whether it had made any representations to the Bangladeshi government about his alleged mistreatment.
Mustafa was transferred to the hospital wing of a Dhaka prison on 2 May and is understood to have been receiving treatment to injuries to his knees and spine.
His Bangladeshi lawyer, Syez Mohsin Ahmed, said: “Gulam Mustafa was physically assaulted and tortured. Medicine, or chemicals, were put on his face and in his mouth to break him down so he would answer their questions. He was blindfolded, and his hands and feet were tied. Now he is receiving treatment for torture.
“He was told that if he admits the allegations against him, he would be released and sent back to London because he is a British national. He was threatened that if he doesn’t admit what was claimed against him, he would be killed in ‘crossfire‘ and so would his family.
“His family members told me that when he was detained, the police told them to tell him that if he didn’t admit the allegations, they would all be killed in crossfire. They also said that if he speaks to the media, they would harm him.”
According to Bangladeshi media reports, the UK high commission has been negotiating the release of Mustafa and another man, Mohiuddin Ahmed, a senior organiser of the Bangladeshi branch of the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir.