ALEXANDRIA: Relatives of a mentally disabled man who was brutally assaulted in a police station last year were relieved on Saturday after offending police colonel Akram Suleiman was found guilty and slapped a five-year jail sentence.
“This is really great. Thank God. I’m so happy,” Ilhamy Sultan, the brother of Ragai Sultan told Daily News Egypt.
“I really didn’t expect that Suleiman would receive such a heavy sentence … I was confident that he’d be found guilty but thought that he’d be given a two- or three-year sentence at most.
“The court really understood what Ragai went through.”
A juvenile crime squad led by Suleiman arrested Ragai Sultan on the evening of July 22, 2008, as he walked on Alexandria’s Corniche.
His brother eventually found him the next day — after he has filed a missing person report — unconscious in a hospital.
Ragai, who had been dumped at the hospital and registered under the name ‘citizen,’ spent three days in intensive care after suffering a broken rib and shoulder, a fracture in the neck and brain hemorrhage that necessitated surgery.
Suleiman was found guilty of three crimes: misuse of force, possession of an illegal weapon and causing permanent disability.
The first offence carries a maximum sentence of three years while defendants found guilty of the second offence face a maximum of one year’s imprisonment.
The maximum sentence handed down in cases of causing permanent disability is seven years. The sentence is calculated according to the seriousness of the disability caused.
Suleiman’s defense lawyers alleged that Ragai — who is nearly 40 — was targeted by a juvenile crime squad because at the time of his arrest he was accompanied by a teenage girl called Passant, who he planned to engage in sexual relations with for money.
The defense maintained throughout the three-month trial that Ragai’s injuries had been caused by him falling down a flight of stairs while attempting to flee the police.
Forensic doctor Karam Shehata categorically repudiated this defense in October when he told the court that Ragai’s head injuries could only have been caused by being struck with a blunt object.
During Saturday’s court session, Suleiman’s lawyers changed tack and attempted to undermine the credibility of the forensic report. They claimed that Shehata did not examine Ragai and said that the fact that the CT scan carried out on Ragai was not accompanied by a report is irregular.
They also maintained that injuries of the gravity sustained by Ragai could be caused “by someone falling over on a beach while playing tennis”.
Doctors from Al Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence who attended the trial said that these medical claims were simply “false.”
Mostafa Hussein, a psychiatrist with the Nadeem Center, told Daily News Egypt that CT scans are not usually accompanied by a report printed on the CT film itself, as the defense claimed.
He added that while falls may lead to concussion or a brain hemorrhage, this is only the case where the fall is from “a considerable height” or if the person has a pre-existing malformation in the brain’s blood vessels, “which is not the case with Ragai.”
Two prosecution witnesses, who were held in the Alexandria Security Directorate at the same time as Ragai, appeared during Saturday’s trial, and gave conflicting accounts of what happened.
Both, however, concurred that a junior policeman called Mohamed was responsible for Ragai’s injuries.
Ragai had initially told his brother that the person responsible for his assault was called Mohamed, but changed this account eight months later when, Ilhamy says, his memory returned and he identified Suleiman as his assailant.
Defense lawyers argued that the fact that Ragai changed his account indicates “Akram is an innocent scapegoat.”
Lawyers who had lodged, and won, a claim for LE 10,001 compensation for Ragai’s injuries expressed surprise at Suleiman’s “shambolic” defense team throughout the trial.
During Saturday’s session Suleiman appeared in the dock wearing sunglasses and at points appeared to be crying.
At the conclusion of the defense team’s pleadings, he shouted out from the dock in tears, “Why am I here? Why has nobody listened to me? I’m being tortured in the newspapers and on websites. Why would I hit him? What is there between us that I would hit him?”
Defense lawyer Gamal El-Swede also focused on this angle during his defense pleadings.
He acknowledged that incidents of police violence and brutality do occur, but added, “members of the police only hit people in order to extract confessions.”
While complaints about police brutality are common, few police officers are held to account for such incidents.
Suleiman’s sentencing is roughly the sixth conviction of a police officer for brutality since 2007.
The heaviest sentence was handed down in November 2007 to a police officer and two policemen, each sentenced to seven years imprisonment, after they were found guilty of killing Nasr Ahmed Abdallah.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the Nadeem Center said that Suleiman’s sentence is “one of the heaviest sentences ever handed down by the Egyptian judiciary in a torture case.”