Mahalla Victims of Police Brutality Handcuffed to Hospital Beds… Public Prosecutor and Doctors' Syndicate Must Intervene Immediately

Press Release

13 April 2008

Dozens of citizens injured in last week's demonstrations in the city of Mahalla remain handcuffed to their hospital beds in violation of Egyptian and international law and medical ethics, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said today. The EIPR called on the Public Prosecutor and the Doctors' Syndicate to intervene in order to ensure that the handcuffs are removed immediately and to investigate those responsible for this violation.

"Victims of police brutality should receive care and treatment, not further abuse and violations of their right to health," said Dr. Ragia Elgerzawy of the EIPR's Health and Human Rights Program. "It is disgraceful that these violations are committed without any objection from prosecutors or hospital doctors." 

Several independent newspapers printed pictures of citizens critically injured during the violent suppression of demonstrations in Al Mahalla Al Kobra last week, with their arms (and in certain cases their legs) restrained to the beds in public hospitals. The EIPR said the pictures revealed a routine practice by officials of the Ministry of Interior that has been repeatedly documented and challenged by human rights organizations.

Restraining detainees who are recovering from illness or injuries in hospitals is an arbitrary practice not based on any Egyptian law. Article 90 of Law number 396 of 1965 on Prison Regulations allows for those held in preventive detention to be restrained only in prison cells and in one exceptional case, namely when a detainee "attempts to escape or when his escape is feared on reasonable grounds." Even in such cases, the prison director or warden is under a legal obligation to immediately report the restraining decision to a prosecutor who has the right to reverse the decision if no reasonable grounds are found to justify it. 

The EIPR added that restraining injured detainees who are receiving treatment in hospitals violates Article 42 of the Constitution, which stipulates that "any citizen arrested, detained or whose freedom is restricted for any reason shall be treated in a manner that preserves his dignity, and no physical or moral harm may be inflicted upon him." The practice is also a form of cruelty, and thereby criminalized by Article 129 of the Penal Code and by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by Egypt in 1986.

Moreover, the EIPR expressed its disappointment at the stance of the Doctors' Syndicate, whose officials not only failed to intervene by investigating doctors who administered this unlawful practice in violation of medical ethics, but also stated, in a story published in Al Badeel daily newspaper on 12 April, that the syndicate could not intervene because it had no jurisdiction over Ministry of Health hospitals.  This position is not in line with the legal obligation of the Doctors' Syndicate to investigate and discipline any physician who violates the Egyptian Code of Medical Ethics, drafted by the Syndicate and issued by Minister of Health Decree number 238 of 2003. Article 35 of the Code stipulates that physicians are prohibited from carrying out "positively or negatively any acts that constitute participation in torture or any other form of cruel or inhumane treatment or colluding in such acts." It also prohibits them from "participation in any measure to control the movement of those whose freedom is restricted, unless this is decided pursuant to medical criteria for the protection of their physical or mental health."

"A person in good health could suffer serious health complications if their movement is restricted for long periods," said Dr. Elgerzawy. "These risks are exacerbated if the restrained person is already suffering from injuries or illness, and the Doctors' Syndicate is under a legal obligation to end this harmful and unethical practice."

The EIPR called on the Public Prosecutor to intervene immediately by ordering the removal of the handcuffs used to restrict the movement of those injured in Mahalla and detained in public hospitals, and to issue clear instructions to prevent the recurrence of this illegal practice. The organization also called on the Doctors' Syndicate to live up to its legal and ethical obligations by ending violations of human rights and medical ethics committed against patients.