Egypt police officer gets some justice for torturing mentally disabled
CAIRO: In a move that has already received much praise from human rights advocates in Egypt, police Col. Akram Soliman has been sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of torturing and assaulting a mentally disabled man in the northern port city of Alexandria. The case had sparked much outrage among activists and rights group in the country, but the verdict handed down, while some argue is not a stiff enough penalty, has appeased many who feared the officer would get off without jail time.
“This is a great moment for all of us who have longed for justice in our country,” said Hafez Abu Saeda, the head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). “It is an uphill battle for these kinds of cases, but it seems like we are starting to get somewhere,” he continued, saying that his organization is working closely with a number of victims of police violence who are pressing charges against their assailants.
The case began in September to much media fanfare and anger across Egypt. Protests erupted outside the courtroom during the October 14 trial date and activists and rights groups had been demanding much more stringent penalties against officers for their use of torture and excessive force against detainees.
“We were really hoping for a more deterrent judgment. Article 282 of the Egyptian Penal Code states that an officer who tortured or illegally captured a suspect should receive life sentence with labor,” the LA Times quoted Moheb Aboud of the Victims Human Rights Institute, which organized a march condemning torture in prisons after Soliman’s conviction.
In July 2008, Ragai Soultan was walking along the city’s promenade when police surrounded him, allegedly believing him to be a child. He was subsequently taken into custody and arrested. At the police station, lawyers say Soliman beat the man after Soultan told him “my brother will defend me.”
Soultan’s doctor, brother and legal guardian, Elhamy Soultan, told reporters that police hit the man on the head with a wooden stick numerous times, causing heavy bleeding before he was transferred to a public hospital. Upon arriving at the hospital to be checked out, the brother was astounded by the site.
According to Soultan’s brother, part of Soultan’s skull broken, with blood gushing out, his left shoulder was also injured to the point that movement in the arm is now difficult, the brother and doctor said. Soultan’s head injuries have resulted in further damage to his mental facilities.
“The police force that stopped and arrested Ragai belonged to the juvenile department and they did so, allegedly, because they saw him with ‘a woman in tight clothes and walking in a suggestive manner’,” said Mustafa Hussein, who works for the Nadeem Center in Cairo, in a comment on a previous Bikya Masr article on Soultan’s case.
“In reality, Ragai doesn’t look like a child and he was taken to the police station and beaten for inexplicable reasons. Ragai says that he showed the police a card saying that he is mentally disabled and that his brother is a doctor. He says that the police didn’t believe him and thought he was making this up,” Hussein added, shedding light on the situation.
Egypt has long struggled with police brutality in recent years. Activists and human rights advocates believe security forces have long used these intimidation tactics in order to force confessions and take advantage of their positions of power.