In the Giza court complex it is as if the revolution never happened. The same blue police vans spit out groups of handcuffed men and then hulk in front the building. Next to them groups of women seek shade and sympathy from the same plain-clothed police informants who offer the same platitudes about their loved ones.
Inside the building the lifts still don’t work – or aren’t for public use – and each floor is a little world of pain and resignation. A sign in the stairwell instructs people to keep the place clean, but does this injunction apply to the group of 20 men, handcuffed in pairs, who have completely blocked the stairwell as they wait their turn in front of the district attorney? How can it apply when on two floors the area in front of the lift has been entirely covered in sand being used for construction work? Lawyers and buffet boys unsteadily make their way across it. Next to them yet another group of handcuffed men wait, sitting on this sand, as if they are on a day out at the seaside.
The hallways that house the prosecution offices are grim, but more of an effort is made to conceal the neglect than the other areas. A faded red rug shoots down the middle of one corridor. Buzzers sound intermittently and a man disappears inside a room to take instructions. Lawyers wait outside and do battle with these middlemen for a chance to access the hidden decision makers inside.
We found Malek Adly, a lawyer with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, waiting inside the secretariat of the South Giza Chief Prosecutor. He was waiting for a chance to ask the Chief Prosecutor to launch an inquiry into why a traffic cop had shot Mahmoud Sobhy twice and why Sobhy had then himself been handcuffed to his hospital bed before being removed to a police station cell days after his operation.
Adly appeared about half an hour later. The Chief Prosecutor had not consented to see him in person and had sent him a message via the middleman: “We will look into the case if we see fit”.
The lawyers’ outdoor café next to the courthouse is filled with brightly coloured plastic furniture, like Lego. Mahmoud Sobhy’s 4-year-old son, a tiny frail boy, disappears amongst the furniture, brandishing an LE 10 note in the air as he chases a waiter asking for orange juice in an inaudible voice. He is ignored until his mother, Samar Abol Magd, intercedes on his behalf twenty minutes later.
She continues describing how she heard about what had happened to Sobhy.
“I got a call from a friend of Mahmoud asking me where I was. I heard people in the background saying, ‘don’t tell his wife, don’t tell his wife’”, Abol Magd says.
On May 18 2011 Sobhy’s brother Hassan was going the wrong way up a one-way street in Giza’s Omraneyya area when a traffic policemen Eissa El-Sayyed Rashed flagged him down and confiscated the tuk-tuk Sobhy was driving.
An altercation ensued and Hassan called Sobhy who arrived to find his brother in tears as the tuk-tuk was hoisted onto a tow-truck.
According to eyewitnesses, a verbal altercation ensued and a large crowd gathered. Rashed is then alleged to have fired his weapon in the air and, according to Abol Magd, told Sobhy that he had “wasted the 25 piastres a bullet costs”.
As Sobhy was turning away from Rashed it is alleged that the latter loaded a gun cartridge and shot him twice, once in the upper thigh and another bullet that went through one side of his abdomen and came out the other.
After undergoing a six-hour operation Abol Magd says that he was questioned by police officers within half an hour of coming out of theatre, while still under the influence of the anesthetic. “They took his fingerprints and made him sign something,” Abol Magd says.
“My husband arrived at the hospital the victim of a crime and the next day we found out that he was accused of attacking a police officer with a knife”.
According to the Interior Ministry’s Facebook page, Hassan Sobhy threatened Rashed with a butcher’s knife, to which Rashed responded by advising him to leave the area.
Mahmoud Sobhy and others meanwhile were attempting to get the tuk-tuk off the tow-truck it had been loaded onto after it was discovered that Hassan Sobhy allegedly did not have the correct registration papers for the vehicles.
The statement says that Rashed shot twice in the air, and then shot Mahmoud Sobhy once in the leg. When he was taken to hospital the statement alleges that it was discovered he was wanted in connection with two criminal offences, denied by both his wife and El-Adly.
Lawyers have not been given a copy of the public prosecution office investigation with Sobhy. Witnesses who appeared to give evidence in defence of Sobhy were themselves arrested and all of them remanded in custody for four days pending investigations. Their detention was subsequently renewed for a further fifteen days.
Occasionally handcuffed to his bed while in hospital, Sobhy was taken to the Giza police station on May 30 – while Abol Magd was elsewhere arranging a power of attorney for a lawyer.
Abol Magd says that her husband is now being held in a police station cell with “around 60 others” and that she is able to see him once a day “for about a minute”.
Two days ago, after repeated complaints by Abol Magd, Sobhy was taken out and his dressings changed in a hospital before being returned to the police station.
Sobhy’s next chance of freedom will be on Saturday, when his detention will come up for renewal.
In the meantime, Abol Magd and her son Mohamed wait. Sobhy, languishes in a police station cell. Serious gunshot wounds were not enough to stop him being pulled out of hospital and dumped in the criminal justice system. Hosny Mubarak, residing in Sharm El-Sheikh hospital, has more luck. The Tora Prison Hospital “is not adequately equipped to receive him”.
June 6 is the one-year anniversary of the death of Khaled Said, beaten to death by police officers in Alexandria. Less than five months after the revolution began incidents of police brutality, of torture and death, are being reported all over again as the police slowly regain their confidence.
On Saturday June 4 Sobhy’s detention together with that of the witnesses who came to testify on his behalf was again renewed for another 15 days. El-Adly says that the judge refused to examine Sobhy’s injuries and ignored lawyers’ demands that their client be held in remand in hospital rather than a cramped police station.
Sobhy himself seems to have had no hope of justice from the start. El-Adly says that rather than appealing for his own freedom he entreated the judge to release the four men who took Sobhy to hospital, appeared on his behalf as witnesses and were themselves detained.
“If you’re going to detain me, detain me, but what have the people who took me to hospital and saved my life done to deserve this? Just tell me that you’ll release them and I’ll accept whatever happens to me”.
An edited version of this was published here.