CAIRO Thousands of Egyptian doctors demonstrated in Cairo on Friday in a rare protest at what rights groups call police impunity after two doctors were alleged to have been assaulted in a hospital in the city last month.
The Egyptian Medical Syndicate held an emergency meeting on Friday and called for the prosecution of police officers involved in the alleged assault in Matariya, a district of northern Cairo. The syndicate says the officers have not been held accountable.
Protests involving thousands of people on the streets of Cairo have become rare since a strict law was passed allowing for jail sentences of up to seven years for those participating in demonstrations without prior police approval.
The syndicate said on Friday that if the officers involved are not brought to trial they will continue to protest.
"The general assembly of the syndicate decided to escalate the situation and is organizing a protest across all hospitals on February 20," Dr. Rashwan Shaaban, assistant secretary-general of the syndicate, told Reuters.
"It's a way to escalate the situation should none of the police officers that assaulted the Matariya doctors be referred to the prosecutor," she said.
Shaaban said the meeting on Friday was called to address "daily assaults on medical staff" that are being ignored by the authorities.
Human rights groups say that police brutality is widespread in Egypt and that there is a culture of impunity. Trials are rare and when they do occur, sentences are usually appealed and subsequently reduced.
The demonstration comes after the body of an Italian student was found by a roadside in Cairo marked with cigarette burns and other signs of torture. Italy has demanded those responsible be brought to justice. Egypt has dismissed suggestions its security services could have been involved.
Several human rights groups spoke out in solidarity with the doctor's syndicate on Friday and called for greater accountability.
"The authorities (must) end the overall impunity enjoyed by police today to prevent the constant recurrence of such incidents," the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said in a statement.
Earlier this week a police officer in Egypt's eastern city of Ismailia was sentenced to eight years in jail for beating a man to death in custody and falsifying police records, judicial sources said.
(Reporting by Mostafa Hashem; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Hugh Lawson)