Egyptian court hands nine policemen jail terms for assaulting doctors

September 20, 2016 6:31 PM EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court sentenced nine policemen to three years in prison on Tuesday for physically and verbally assaulting two doctors at a Cairo hospital in January, an incident that prompted strikes and a protest demanding justice.

The verdict can be appealed and the court ordered bail of 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($225). The policemen are not in jail.

Momin Abdelazim, one of the two doctors allegedly involved, told Reuters at the time that police assaulted him and a colleague after they refused to falsify medical records to say one officer had a serious head injury. Abdelazim said the wound was superficial.

The incident prompted thousands of Egyptian doctors, led by the doctors' syndicate, to hold strikes and a rare protest demanding the policemen involved be brought to trial and the health minister be sacked. Following the strikes and pressure from the syndicate, prosecutors decided to reopen the case.

Some media at the time criticised the doctors, saying they were using the incident for political ends and accusing them of endangering lives through their strike actions.

Egyptian officials say cases of police abuse, including that involving the doctors, are isolated. Officials have repeatedly promised that all allegations would be investigated and punished where appropriate.

Anger over perceived police brutality helped fuel the 2011 uprising that began on a Police Day holiday and ended President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Human rights groups says abuses are the result of a culture of impunity in which police are rarely punished. They have called for an independent body to investigate police brutality allegations.

A string of deadly recent incidents, some of which took place in public, have fomented popular anger with the police.

In April, a riot erupted in a Cairo suburb after a policeman killed a man with an assault rifle in an argument over the price of a cup of tea, witnesses and the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry promised to investigate the incident.

In February, protests broke out after a policeman shot dead a driver in the street in an argument over a fare, witnesses and the ministry said. The case was sent to court and the policeman was sentenced to life in jail in April.

A police officer was sentenced to seven years in jail and five other policemen to three years in July for beating to death a father of four. The man was one of at least three men who died in police custody in a single week in November 2015.

(Corrects prison sentence to three years from three months.)

(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed and Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Alan Crosby)



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