The Doctors Syndicate announced a plan of escalation against the Ministry of Interior following a recent assault by policemen on two doctors inside Matariya Teaching Hospital three days ago.
Members of the syndicate’s council held a prolonged emergency meeting Saturday followed by a press conference, in which they announced they closed the reception service at the Matariya Hospital where the incident took place, and said the only cases that are already inside the hospital will be treated.
The syndicate noted that all doctors are subject to its decision, irrespective of the hospital administration’s objections, adding that the general assembly will convene for an urgent session on 12 February.
The ministry said eight police conscripts were temporarily suspended and referred to investigation for allegedly assaulting doctors Ahmed El-Sayed and Moamen Abdel Azim while on duty.
The two doctors told the press that beginning on Thursday evening through Friday, they had been subjected to insults, severe beatings, and threats as a group of conscripts attacked them at the hospital, repeatedly. The incident sparked furious reactions among doctors.
The details of the assault, as told by the assaulted doctors, highlighted the conscripts’ display of power, false claims, forged medical reports, fabricated accusations, and threats to pressure the doctors to drop charges, which they eventually did.
Before filing their official report, the doctors were told by the prosecutor that their adversaries also accused them of attacking them, which would require their detention pending investigations. It was understood by the doctors that the intimidation would go on until they gave up.
“Imagining the idea of being detained at the Matariya police station specifically, with all those angry policemen who had forged medical reports and faked injuries to get back at us, caused me to ask the officer if I could be detained elsewhere. He refused. El-Sayed insisted on getting his rights but I was afraid I would never emerge alive from that police station, so I dropped the charges,” Abdel Azim told Daily News Egypt on the sidelines of Saturday’s conference.
Meanwhile, Mostafa Fouad, who used to work at the Matariya Hospital until last December, said the incident shed light on the “eternal issue of hospitals security, especially the receptions”, noting that doctors are used to dealing with “angry and aggressive” patients’ relatives. “Sometimes an entire district would storm the hospital carrying a dead patient, trying to put the blame on doctors,” he said.
However, Fouad asserted that the alleged police assault remains one of a kind. “That is why I believe it is a very positive step for the syndicate to take a firm condemning tone towards what happened. Moreover closing the hospital’s reception is not a minor decision, due to the enormous flow of patients,” Fouad said. He told Daily News Egypt Sunday that the Matariya Hospital received 250,000 patients in November 2015 alone.
Syndicates versus Ministry of Interior
Two major professional syndicates preceded the Doctors Syndicate’s in its expressed objection to police violations against its members, or practitioners of the profession, whether on or off duty.
Head of the Lawyers’ Syndicate Sameh Ashour had stated that lawyers intended to escalate against “increased” assaults on lawyers by the police following repeated incidents in courts and police stations, resulting in the injuries of several lawyers. Strikes were organised in 2015 reaching a peak, denouncing alarming physical assault.
An incident that sparked anger was an assault by a police officer on a lawyer inside a police station in Damietta last week. The victim, lawyer Emad Fahmy, received eight stitches to the head, an injury which resulted from a shoe being thrown at him . Another lawyer was shot by a police conscript in court.
In March, Cairo’s lawyers syndicate demonstrated against the death of colleague Kareem Hamdy, who is believed to have died at the hands of police officers at Matariya police station in February 2015. Last December, two National Security officers sentenced to 5 years for Hamdy’s killing.
Meanwhile, lawyer Mohamed Wagdy, warned from the recurrence of violations in case of the non-fulfillment of the syndicate’s role to defend lawyers.
Based in Port Said, Wagdy previously told Daily News Egypt the details of an assault he was subject to back in the story of his assault by police conscripts in October 2015. Wagdy was shot in his left hand by a police conscript and he lost part of his middle finger. He had rejected reconciliation attempts by the conscript’s family.
Speaking again to Daily News Egypt nearly three months later, Wagdy said Sunday that currently he is still waiting for the case to be referred to trial by prosecution authorities.
Aside from his local colleagues’, Wagdy claimed he did not have much support from the Lawyers Syndicate in terms of effort. “Sameh Ashour and I spoke once. But I do believe that syndical interference broadens the scope of conflict and makes the police’s problem with the syndicate as a whole. If it takes vigilant measures, the next assaulter would probably think twice before entering in confrontation with the syndicate,” he said.
The Press Syndicate also had several confrontations with the Ministry of Interior over journalists’ assets, security assaults, or harassment to prevent reporters from doing their jobs. Since journalists constitute one of the largest professional sectors facing security threats and detention, the syndicate often campaigns against their imprisonment and mistreatment in jails.
Journalist Haitham Radwan was allegedly subject to assault and unlawful arbitrary detention in September. He was walking in the street when he was arrested by five men who claimed to be officers of an investigation bureau. They insulted and arrested him without legal grounds and detained him for over three hours at Talbeya police station.
“They told me I should be grateful that I was ever released, in a clear demonstration of power. What happened with me was shameful since I am journalist specialised in covering crimes and accidents and therefore I am not unknown to the apparatus,” Radwan told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
Radwan said although he was not a member of the Press Syndicate, it immediately issued a condemning statement, and that head of the freedoms’ committee at the syndicate Khaled El-Balshy assisted him while filing official complaints.
“We are facing issues to stop such assaults due to the non-reinforcement of penalties on the perpetuators, according to the Criminal Code Procedures. Instead they face administrative punishment until further notice regarding any legal punishment,” Radwan said.
According to prominent rights’ lawyer Gamal Eid, head of Cairo-based Arabic Network of Human Rights Information, syndicates are fulfilling their natural role by defending the rights of the category of people they are responsible for.
“The Interior Ministry is the state’s apparatus. It has authorisation over citizens, but at the same time, it is the entity committing violations against those citizens,” Eid told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
On the other hand, the Press Syndicate, a non-state institution, often confronts the violations related to its professionals. “With the increase of police brutality, the syndicate’s role also increased,” he said.
“Due to the lack of law enforcement on the police sector, syndicates find themselves sometimes compelled into accepting the minimum compensation, knowing that policemen would not be brought to trial for their crimes,” Eid said.
Examples of commonly accepted restitution methods included public apologies by the ministry or large media campaigns in solidarity with the victims.