Doctors close Matareya Hospital in protest over police intimidation

Matareya Hospital in northeast Cairo has been closed for two days due to reports of police intimidation and threats against two physicians.

On Thursday morning, low-ranking police officers reportedly attempted to get physicians to falsify medical reports in their favor. The hospital in response announced its services had been relocated to other nearby medical facilities until the dispute is resolved.

Amid threats of escalating protests and a general strike by the Doctors Syndicate, the Ministry of Interior reportedly suspended eight policemen involved in the incident and referred them to internal investigations on Sunday, Abu Bakr Abdel Karim, the ministry’s official spokesperson, announced in a televised interview.

Nonetheless, on February 12, the Doctors General Syndicate is still scheduled to convene an emergency general assembly session to determine if its physicians will escalate their protest into a nationwide work stoppage of non-essential medical treatment and services in Egypt’s public hospitals, which they said they would do if the policemen in question are not held accountable.

The secretary general of the Doctors Syndicate, Mona Mina, confirmed that the two physicians who filed a lawsuit against the policemen were threatened with arrest at Matareya Police Station for four days, pending investigations against them.

Speaking to the privately-owned ONtv satellite channel on Sunday, Mina said that, as the two doctors were forced to drop the charges against the policemen, “the hospital’s administrative board had moved to file its own lawsuit, as this constitutes a serious crime targeting the hospital.”

A microbus with eight low-ranking policemen was driven to the hospital on Thursday, when they brandished their weapons and threatened doctors with force if they didn’t falsify medical reports, Mina added.

The two doctors “were abducted from the hospital by policemen and dragged into the microbus, where they were handcuffed and transported to Matareya Police Station” without an arrest warrant, Mina explained, adding that, when other doctors protested against their colleagues’ detention, they were also manhandled by policemen.

“Despite the two doctors’ personal decision to drop the charges leveled against the policemen,” the Doctors Syndicate chose to file its own lawsuit with the office of the prosecutor general against Matareya Police Station, “as this is a major violation of societal rights, and we want to ensure that it does not happen again,” the secretary general added.

Mina explained that the “emergency closure” of Matareya Teaching Hospital was “in keeping with national and international protocol, when a hospital that is no longer secure and cannot be used for treatment or medical services.”

The secretary general asserted that the Ministry of Interior’s recommendation to deploy police forces from the nearby Matareya Police Station is not an acceptable solution, as the dispute involved policemen from the same station.

Several angry doctors commented on the website of Matareya Hospital, saying Egypt’s “policemen are thugs,” others called for a strike against such police actions.

A statement issued by the Doctors General Syndicate and the Doctors Branch Syndicates of Cairo and Giza, denounced the “policemen’s aggressions” on Sunday.  

This syndicate’s statement also declared that Matareya Hospital would remain closed until adequate security guarantees are provided and the policemen involved in the incident are suspended from service and referred to criminal trial.

An internal investigation or disciplinary hearing against the eight policemen is not sufficient, Mina told ONtv. “The syndicate needs to be directly informed of the specific disciplinary actions taken against these policemen,” she said, adding that the syndicate would push ahead with its lawsuit against the police were involved in Thursday’s incident.

This is not the first time that a professional syndicate has organized protests against the actions of security forces from Matareya Police Station. In March 2015, the Lawyers Syndicate filed petitions with the prosecutor general and organized protests and marches following the death of Lawyer Karim Hamdy at this same police station. An official autopsy revealed that Hamdy had been tortured to death whilst in detention in late February 2015.

Several deaths of detainees have been reported at Matareya Police Station in recent months, as well as incidents of torture and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. 

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