Egypt’s Li Wenliangs: The doctors arrested for reporting corona infections

Egyptian activists have launched a campaign of solidarity with the Egyptian doctor Aalaa Shaban Hemida, who was arrested by the Egyptian regime for reporting to the Egyptian Ministry of Health a coronavirus case in the hospital where she works in Alexandria, in the north of the country.

Aalaa, 26, was arrested on March 28 from her workplace and forcibly disappeared for two days. Then she appeared at the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) to be investigated pending Case 558 of 2020. Besides Aalaa, that case includes at least two other doctors and a pharmacist who face charges of publishing and broadcasting false news aimed at terrorising individuals and misusing social media.

Aalaa’s case started after the hospital manager Yasser al-Kassar reported what he described as a violation of his authority after a nurse used Aalaa’s phone to report a new infection to the Ministry of Health. Doctors say that al-Kassar informed the National Security Forces about Aalaa with the assistance of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Alexandria, Wael Nabil.

The case started when Aalaa was performing her duty in el-Shatby Hospital in the Gynecology and Obstetrics department. After a suspected corona case, one of the nursing staff reported to the Ministry of Health that there was a suspected case, using the doctor’s phone. Al-Kassar was angry because she did not seek permission from him first, as he was the head of the department that Aalaa works in. Al-Kassar informed the college dean Dr. Nabil that what the doctor had done could cause panic, and that she should be held accountable for that, and they informed the National Security Forces that this doctor might cause problems that arouse public opinion. Al-Kassar called Dr. Aalaa, and asked her to meet Nabil in his office as a trap. Her phone was turned off since entering the office and she disappeared completely. Al-Kassar denied knowing anything and said that he had not arranged to meet Aalaa, but when they threatened to organise a strike until the fate of their colleague was revealed, he also threatened to inform national security so that they were arrested and would meet the same fate. Aalaa’s colleagues have now published a photo on Twitter that included the schedule of doctors at el-Shatby Hospital, and Aalaa’s name appeared among the list of doctors. The activists asked al-Kassar whether the doctor he reported two months ago is still being held in connection with one of the cases.

The Egyptian Front for Human Rights condemned the authorities’ resort to security solutions in dealing with health care sector problems. The Egyptian Front said that since the spread of coronavirus in Egypt, cases of infection, death, and arbitrary detention among doctors are constantly increasing. The number of doctors who have died from the virus has reached 47.

The statement confirmed that the authorities started a campaign of monitoring the social media accounts of doctors, which was the reason for accusing a number of them in connection with state security issues.

The Egyptian Front stated that Case 558 for the year 2020 includes three doctors and a pharmacist, who are facing charges of joining a group that was established in violation of the law and publishing and broadcasting false news aimed at inciting terror among people and misusing social media.

In addition to Dr. Aalaa, security forces arrested the pharmacist Mohamed Kamel Ghanem Mustafa al-Sayez, 27, and forcibly disappeared him for five days, due to his criticism of the policies of Health Minister Hala Zayed in the face of the coronavirus.

Security forces arrested Doctor Hani Bakr Ali Kahil, 36, an eye surgeon at Toukh Hospital (in Qalyubia), on April 10, from his home in Toukh city, Qaliubiya Governorate, and forcibly disappeared him for 18 days. He then appeared in front of the SSSP due to his posts on a social networking site criticising the medical aid that Egypt sent to Italy whilst it was needed at home in Egyptian hospitals.

Pending the same case and the same charges Ahmed Sabra Ibrahim, 44, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Banha University, who was arrested on April 16, 2020 from his private clinic in the city of Benha and was investigated and disappeared for 12 days. Both doctors are now on remand.

News has also spread about the arrest of doctor Ibrahim Bedaiwi and the pharmacist Mohamed Helmy Goda, both of whom were forcibly disappeared, as none of their families was able to determine their location or communicate with them.