The family of a Toronto university student who was detained after surviving a deadly attack in Bangladesh has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene in the case of the young man, who is a permanent resident of Canada.
Tahmid Hasib Khan has been in custody in Dhaka since the July 1 attack, in which 20 hostages were killed, mostly foreigners.
The 22-year-old’s family doesn’t know why he’s being held, but they insist Khan has done nothing wrong.
His brother, Talha Khan, who is a Canadian citizen, sent a letter through a lawyer to Trudeau’s office on Monday, asking for Ottawa’s help in the case.
“It’s requesting that they reach out to the government of Bangladesh, to let the government of Bangladesh know that Canada is concerned,” said lawyer Marlys Edwardh.
“And (the letter asks) to seek access to this young man so that the conditions of his detention can be monitored and it can be ensured that he is not being held in circumstances that violate international norms.”
Global Affairs Canada has said it is monitoring the situation in Bangladesh closely, but a spokeswoman said Monday that “there are limits” to what any country can do for individuals who are not its citizens.
However, Edwardh said that although Khan is not a Canadian citizen, Ottawa does have “a clear discretion” to request consular access to him.
“Tahmid is a young man who has very real Canadian connections,” she said. “His goal is to become a citizen of Canada.”
Khan, an undergraduate student studying global health at the University of Toronto, had travelled to Dhaka to visit family, with plans to go on to Nepal where he was to begin an internship this week.
He was meeting friends at an upscale restaurant in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone when he got caught up in the 10-hour hostage crisis.
A group of young Bangladeshi men held about 35 hostages over night, killing 20 of them, including 17 foreigners from Japan, Italy and India. Two police officers were also killed in the siege.
Khan was detained after the attack ended, and his family fears authorities may suspect him of being linked to the attackers, who have been identified as coming from well-off families.
“We want to know why he is being held, as a witness, or as a suspect,” said Khan’s brother. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing in his life points towards any sort of extremism.”
While Khan’s father was able to speak with his son twice in the early days of his detention, the family has not been able to reach him for a week, and isn’t even sure where he is being held, his brother said.
“We know he is in Dhaka but where exactly we don’t know,” Talha Khan said.
“We’ve done everything that can be done. We’ve reached out to the government in Canada, we have reached out to the government in Bangladesh, now it’s up to the authorities to make their decision. We just want them to not take so much time, and be just in whatever they do.”
The entire situation has taken a tremendous toll on the parents, his brother said, noting that his mother has suffered an emotional breakdown and his father was hospitalized on Monday after a suspected heart attack.
“We understand that it’s a national security issue, but at least if my parents could go and see him, that would be some kind of solace,” he said. “At least communication to begin with.”