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Naheem Hussain: Rehan Zaman

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 16 September 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the reasons were for the time taken for his Department to respond to reports of Naheem Hussain and Rehan Zaman being tortured in Pakistan; and if he will make a statement. (291418)

When consular staff from our High Commission in Islamabad first visited them in prison on 29 July 2004, Mr Naheem Hussain and Mr Rehan Zaman raised allegations that they had been mistreated while in initial police custody. This was reported back to London. We failed to seek an explicit view at the time from them as to whether they wanted us to raise their concerns with the local authorities.

Staff in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London subsequently advised the High Commission in Islamabad to seek such a view on their next visit to Mr Hussain and Mr Zaman. However, once it was realised that this would not be until October 2004—prison visits to British nationals in Pakistan are usually done on a three monthly cycle—a decision was taken to seek their view via their lawyer which we did in early September 2004. As the right hon. Member will be aware, their lawyer subsequently confirmed that they did not want the matter raised with the local authorities.

It should not have taken five weeks from our first visit to Mr Hussain and Mr Zaman to obtain their view. Our consular guidance has developed since 2004 and we have taken steps to ensure such a delay would not happen now. This has included giving clear guidance to our consular staff both overseas and in London that where we have reason to believe a British national has been mistreated in detention overseas, this should be raised urgently with the relevant authorities. Our immediate objective in these cases is to have the allegations investigated and, if there is a possibility that mistreatment is continuing, to ensure that it is stopped. By reacting promptly in this way we also hope to deter abuse in future cases.