CAIRO: When Doctor Ilhamy Sultan began searching for his missing brother on the night of July 21, 2008, the last place he expected to find him was lying in a hospital bed, the victim of brutal police violence.
Ragai Sultan is 46 going on 47. However, with an IQ of 50, he could be classified as only borderline intelligent. This did not stop him from leading a normal life. Until two weeks ago, Ragai lived independently, bought his own food, cooked for himself, and went for walks near his home in Alexandria.
On the afternoon of July 21, Ragai was snatched by police as he was taking a walk along the Corniche. He was rounded up with a group of street children and bundled into the back of a police truck.
Ragai, although lacking the communication skills of an adult, is sitting wearing trousers and a neat shirt. His face bears the features of adulthood, although his wide blue eyes have a childlike innocence. They are also noticeably filled with fear.
“He was unlucky, says his sister, Chinaz, “Out of all the young people they brought to the police station of Samouha, he was the one they beat up this badly.
Police officers left Ragai unconscious. His head injuries were so severe he suffered from bleeding in the brain that lasted 10 days. Other injuries included a broken rib, shoulder and fracture in his neck, leaving his left arm paralyzed. After two and a half weeks, the bruising that covered his whole body is still visible.
The stitches on his head were almost a centimeter wide running vertically down his head.
Sitting across from Ragai, it is easy to hold a conversation with him. It would not have been difficult, one realizes, for police to quickly understand his situation, his condition, and that they had simply made a mistake. From the onset of his ordeal, Ragai, as he and Chinaz relate, tried to explain his identity.
“I told them I was from a good family, and the names of my neighbors, where I lived. said Ragai.
Most importantly, Ragai carries with him his identity card at all times, as is obligatory of all Egyptian citizens. On the back of the card, a short statement informs the reader of his condition, and provides his brother’s details in case of any problems.
The identity card, however, did not stop police from taking a bat to Ragai, and beating him from head to toe.
Intelligence police bedside protectionMeanwhile, Ragai’s family was scouring the police stations of Alexandria in search of their brother.
“We had tried to call him all evening on July 21 until my brother went to the police station to report him missing, said Chinaz, his sister.
Doctor Ilhamy was told he could only report his brother missing the following morning at Sidi Gaber police station, on July 22. Arriving the following morning, police made calls around Alexandria’s stations, but Ragai’s name did not come up.
“We wondered whether he had been involved in an accident. So we went to the University Hospital to see if he was there, said Chinaz.
The Sultans, arriving at the hospital at approximately 7 pm on July 22, found their brother, registered not under his name, but simply “a citizen.
“It was only through Ilhamy’s persistence, that after five or 10 minutes, someone remembered they had heard Ragai’s name mentioned by the people who transferred him, she continued.
That Ragai’s name should not have been used in the hospital register was, and remains to be, just one odd detail amongst many in Ragai’s ill-fated brush with the law.
When the Sultans found their brother, concussed and having undergone head surgery, lying in the neurological ward, they also found two “intelligence police standing by his bed, “for security.
Despite the fact he was slipping in and out of consciousness, Ragai was fully aware of the injustice he had suffered.
“He kept saying: ‘I want my right’. said Chinaz.
When Saad Hassanatou, Chinaz’s husband, asked his brother-in-law what had happened, he pointed at the two men, and said, “Ask them, they know everything.
Doctor Ilhamy Sultan began to swiftly make arrangements to have his brother transferred from a state hospital to a private one.
“While we were waiting for the ambulance, said Hassanatou, “someone came from nowhere, he introduced himself to Dr Ilhamy. He told him that Ragai had fallen down in the road, and out of their own kindness and generosity, they had taken him to hospital. At this stage, you believe everything, you can’t argue. We hadn’t yet heard what happened from Ragai.
Intensive care and police cover-upOn July 23, Ragai Sultan was transferred to a private hospital, where, fitted with the essential medical equipment notably lacking in the state hospital, he spent three days in intensive care.
Meanwhile, Ilhamy went back to Sidi Gaber police station to inform police, having made the missing persons report, that his brother had been found.
It was the response this information elicited from the police themselves that led Ilhamy to the logical conclusion that the police’s story was no more than a very crude attempt to hide the travesty inflicted on his brother.
Ilhamy was taken into the room of a police chief, who, putting his hand over the Quran, swore the police had not harmed his brother.
He claimed that Ragai had been “escorting a prostitute along the Corniche, had attempted to run from the police, and had fallen in the road, resulting in his severe injuries.
Police then proceeded to take a young girl off the street to testify that she was “walking with Ragai.
Then the police chief, despite already insisting Ragai’s injuries were not inflicted by police, offered to pay the costs for Ragai’s medical treatment.
Realizing what had happened, Ilhamy returned to the hospital and made his brother tell him what happened on the evening of Tuesday July 21.
Determined to see justiceChinaz and her family, who live in London and have British citizenship, visit Egypt every summer. They were meant to be flying back to Britain today, but under such horrific circumstances, they have had to delay their return.
“I am worried about Ragai’s future, said Chinaz. “He is traumatized, my other brother, Ilhamy, works in both a hospital and clinic and has a very busy schedule. I am very concerned how he will cope once we leave, since his whole life has been ruined.
Ragai will not go out and even puts notices on his door refusing to see people without first showing their identity cards.
Doctor Ilhamy has started legal proceedings. With his lawyer, Abdul Aziz Ghunayim, he has launched a legal complaint to the public prosecutor. However, before any action can be taken, the Sultan family will have to wait for the forensic report to be completed, a factor that, judging from similar cases, could take months.
But the Sultan family are determined they will seek justice. It is often the case that families in similar circumstances have given up, beaten down by legal costs, time and the impermeable trickiness of Egyptian legal bureaucracy.
“When this happens to a poor family, they can’t do anything, said Chinaz. “But when well-educated people like us follow it up, they will start to realize they can’t treat people like animals. The people who did this to him should be punished, to set an example to others not to do the same.