Lawyer for survivor of Dhaka cafe siege demands his release from custody by Bangladesh police

Bangladeshi policemen stand under umbrellas at a checkpoint in Dhaka on July 5, 2016, in a street leading to the entrance of a restaurant which was the site of the July 1 attack.
Bangladeshi policemen stand under umbrellas at a checkpoint in Dhaka on July 5, 2016, in a street leading to the entrance of a restaurant which was the site of the July 1 attack.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - A British lawyer for an engineer detained for nearly a month after surviving a deadly siege at a Dhaka cafe has slammed the authorities for refusing his client access to legal representation.

Police seized Mr Hasnat Karim for questioning after the July 1 attack on the Western-style cafe by Islamist militants that left 20 hostages and two police officers dead.

Relatives said Mr Karim, who holds dual Bangladesh and British nationality, was used as a human shield by the Islamists during the attack after going to the cafe with his wife to celebrate his daughter's birthday.

His lawyer Rodney Dixon, speaking from London, said the 47-year-old was being held at a secret location in Bangladesh and was being interrogated without a lawyer present.

"He cannot be kept incommunicado in detention. He must have access to his lawyers while he is being questioned," Mr Dixon told AFP late on Wednesday.

"They should release him immediately since there is no evidence of his involvement in any crime. There is absolutely no evidence that he was the ring leader or involved in any way in the attack," he said.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan confirmed to AFP this week that Mr Karim was still being held, without saying whether he would face charges or when he would be released.

Investigators detained Mr Karim after video footage showed him walking with the attackers on the cafe's roof during the siege.

A British High Commission official told AFP that they have so far been denied access to Mr Karim despite ongoing requests.

Another survivor of the attack, Mr Tahmid Khan, 22, a student at the University of Toronto, was also still being interrogated, as police try to piece together what happened during the siege.

Militants killed 22 people, mostly foreigners, when they raided the upscale Holey Artisan restaurant on the night of July 1, as Bangladesh reels from a series of gruesome killings by Islamists.

Army commandoes stormed the cafe the next morning, killing all five attackers and rescuing 13 people, including Mr Karim, his wife and their two children, as well as Mr Khan.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, but police blame homegrown extremist group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

Mr Karim's father said his son, director of a civil engineering firm who grew up in England and went to university there, was "not religious".

"He goes to gym for exercise and occasionally to clubs for drinking beer. He is a simple man who does not like to socialise with people," Mr Rezaul Karim told AFP, rejecting local media reports that Hasnat knew one of the attackers through a Bangladesh university.

Mr Karim's lawyers have filed a petition to the UN, urging a team from the international body to travel to Bangladesh to visit him in detention.