In solidarity with the Matariya Teaching hospital doctors against the latest abuses by the Matariya police :EIPR calls for a serious and transparent investigation
On February 12, the general assembly of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate and the Cairo syndicate is scheduled to meet under the slogan “The Protection, Dignity, and Security of Doctors.” The meeting was called for after weeks of intimidation and a smear campaign against the Matariya hospital doctors for insisting on their right to hold Matariya policemen accountable for their assault and unlawful detention of two doctors at the hospital on January 28. It was only 13 days later, on February 10, that the Public Prosecutor finally summoned nine policemen from the Matariya station for interrogation in relation to the assault. Prosecutors had earlier summoned members of the Doctors Syndicate in regard to the strike and closure of hospitals on February 6.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights urges the authorities to end the overall impunity enjoyed by police today to prevent the constant recurrence of such incidents. Prosecutors must conduct a diligent, transparent investigation into the accused policemen and promptly order the Forensic Medical Authority to document injuries before it is too late. The Interior Ministry must suspend the policemen in question pending the conclusion of the investigations, to prevent the defendants from pressuring and intimidating the complainants, which occurred in this case and is a regular feature of cases brought against the police.
The dispute related to events that took place on January 28 when a junior policeman with the Matariya police station was dissatisfied with the admitting doctor’s diagnosis and recording of an injury sustained by the policeman and therefore assaulted and arrested the doctor. The two doctors filed a complaint about the assault with the prosecution and attached medical reports documenting their injuries, but the policemen then filed a counter-complaint accusing the doctors of assaulting them. At that point, the doctors withdrew their complaint because they knew they would end up being detained, even if only temporarily, at the Matariya police station and were afraid of the abuse in reprisal they might face there.
Intimidation and threats against victims of police torture or assault who attempt to file a complaint is a routine occurrence to compel complainants to back down, especially in light of prosecutors habitual reluctance to remand accused policemen to custody. What is particularly shocking in this case, however, is that one particular police station has now become so synonymous with torture and ill treatment that a doctor at a public hospital believes his life would be in danger if he were to be detained at that station and will relinquish his complaint as a result. This is a reflection of the level of police abuse of authority these days. The Matariya police station has become a liability to the Egyptian criminal justice system, seeing 14 deaths in custody in 2014 and 2015 alone, due to lethal torture, poor conditions and crowding, and medical neglect.
After the two doctors were pressured into withdrawing their complaint, doctors at the hospital declared a strike at the facility, insisting on an investigation of the policemen. The Doctors Syndicate—represented by the head of the national syndicate, the head of the Cairo syndicate, and the assaulted doctors—filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office on January 31, accusing the policemen of storming into the hospital and asking for the appointment of an investigating judge in the case. The Public Prosecutor’s Office referred the complaint (no. 1305/petitions) to the East Cairo Plenary Prosecution for investigation. At the same time, the office also opened an investigation into the ongoing closure of the hospital. The East Cairo Prosecution summoned the president of the Doctors Syndicate, Dr. Hassan Khairi, and Secretary-General Dr. Mona Mina for questioning about the closure on February 6, after the hospital had reopened the admitting and emergency wards. Press sources say that 22 complaints have been filed against the Doctors Syndicate by lawyers and individuals accusing the syndicate of impeding the operation of a government facility (the Matariya hospital), in what appears to be an attempt to pressure doctors to end their partial strike at the facility.
The assault at the hospital:
The incident took place at approximately 2:30 am on January 28, 2016. EIPR interviewed one of the two doctors and reviewed video recordings of the incident. Two men in civilian clothing came to the hospital, one of them had an injury to the face measuring no more than 1.5 cm. He was admitted by Dr. Ahmed al-Sayyed, who was in the admitting ward with a nurse and two doctors. Dr Abdelazim told EIPR that the cut was such a simple one that he left his colleague to deal with it and went elsewhere.
In a filmed statement Dr. Al-Sayyed said:
We told him it was a simply injury and did not require stitches. He objected to our diagnosis and started cursing—there are nurses who witnessed this. We didn’t know he was with the Matariya police station.
Dr. Abdelazim told EIPR that ten minutes later he received a call from Dr. al-Sayid saying “come save me, I’ve been beaten and my glasses are broken and I can’t see a thing.” Dr Abdelazim returned to the surgery room and when he arrived, he found al-Sayyed detained inside with the door locked on the inside:
I kept knocking on the door until it was opened, and I found Dr. Ahmed detained in a corner by the man with the injury on his face, who was beating and kicking him. He had a second man there who was shouting. When I told the nurse to call the police, the man said ‘We are the police.’
Arrest and Detention:
At this point the policeman said he was arresting Dr. al-Sayyed and taking him to the Matariya police station. Dr. Abd al-Azim grabbed his colleague away from the policeman in the corner, at which point the other policeman drew his pistol and cocked it, threatening to use it against him and cursing him all the time. A hospital security guard then attempted to intervene, but the policeman threatened him saying, “Do you know who we are? Get out!” He then assaulted and kicked Abd al-Azim and hit him on the head with his pistol. Abd al-Azim asked the security guard who was standing next to the door of the operating room to close the door so the patients would not see the doctors being beaten. A video clip reviewed by EIPR shows the policemen attempting to forcibly lead Dr. Abd al-Azim out of a hospital corridor and pushing hospital security away.
About 15 minutes later, an estimated 6-8 policemen from the station wearing civilian garb arrived at the hospital. They came in a microbus arrested the two doctors and detained them in the police office attached to the hospital. The shift director, Dr. Ahmed Galal, arrived and attempted to secure the release of the two doctors, but the policemen refused to let them leave the room and insisted on putting them in microbus to take them to the station.
Dr. Al-Sayyid recounts: “Then they grabbed me and said, ‘Get in the microbus.’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t done anything. I work here and I’m not leaving my workplace.’ They beat me and dragged me to the microbus and put handcuffs on me then they threw me in the microbus. All of that from the admitting area.”
Under beating and intimidation, Abd al-Azim entered the microbus while Dr. al-Sayyed disappeared from view. “I didn’t know where he was,” said Abd al-Azim. “Then I saw them dragging him on the ground and raining down blows and kicks on him while pulling him to the microbus. He was yelling that he wouldn’t get on unless someone from the hospital went with him. I told him, ‘Get on, I’m with you, we’ll go to the station and that’s it.’”
When they reached the station, they were met by an officer who knew Abd al-Azim by sight from previous interactions between the hospital and police station. He asked the doctor if everything was okay. The policeman informed him, “They’re going up to the third floor.” He then took them to the third floor and put them temporarily with other detainees, held surrounded by several desks, with only a small corridor open between them to allow exit. The deputy station chief then came and spoke apologetically to them. He took them out and escorted them back to the hospital in a microbus.
Complaint and counter-complaint at the prosecution:
When they reached the hospital, they were met by Dr. Mamoun, the deputy-director of the hospital, who according to Abd al-Azim told them, “One question: did anyone hit you?” Abd al-Azim said, “We responded that we’d been put through the wringer. He told me, ‘Okay, get inside now.’” A short time later, Dr. Mamoun called him in to write up a report about the incident at the police point attached to the hospital. Abd al-Aziz says that the police official who wrote the report described the incident at the outset as a fight, not an assault by policemen who stormed into the hospital. By this time, it was morning and Abd al-Azim went back to work as usual.
“Every day we get beaten up, we’re used to it, but not by the police,” Abd al-Azim said.
Dr. Abdelazim related that on the afternoon of January 28, Dr. Ahmed Fathi, with the Doctors Syndicate arrived with a lawyer. They all went with the second victim, Dr. al-Sayyed, to the prosecution office in the Fifth Settlement and gave their statements. There they were informed by the prosecution that a complaint had been filed against them by three policemen.
The police assailants from the Matariya station had come to the prosecution, some of them being carried by their colleagues, in an attempt to feign injury, according to Abdelazim. At about 5 pm, while they were giving their statements, Abdelazim asked the prosecutor to postpone the questioning until the following day due to his exhaustion. The prosecutor refused saying, “The investigation is open now and it can’t be postponed.” The prosecutor said that next Abdelazim and al-Sayyed would be remanded to the Matariya police station for four days pending investigation.
Dr. Abdelazim told EIPR:
I went in as a complainant and found myself in the dock. I told the prosecutor I had no problem going to jail anywhere, just not the Matariya station. He told me he couldn’t do that. In the end, we withdrew the complaint. I know what would’ve happened to us if we’d been jailed at the Matariya station.