Doctors argue over the autopsy of Egypt's latest torture victim

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Saturday 29 Oct 2011

Some claim the autopsy of Essam Atta, Egypt's alleged latest torture victim and hot button for protests, is riddled with faults, despite two doctors who monitored the autopsy

Image of Essam Ali's corpse (facebook)

Essam Atta, a young Egyptian who died Thursday while in prison, has become known in Egypt as the regime’s latest victim of torture. There are now conflicting statements from rights organisations, the Ministry of Interior and the Tahrir Doctors association over his autopsy.

The initial hospital report on Atta's death (prior to the autopsy) reads that he died as a result of vomiting a large quantity of blood caused by poisoning, which led to a severe drop in blood circulation, causing stoppage of the heart muscle. The hospital did not identify what it was that poisoned him.

The Egyptian Ministry of Interior released a statement on Friday, reiterating the hospital's report, adding that Atta had been sick and lost consciousness while in prison. They said the prison’s physician suspected Atta of "severe drug poisoning." It further detailed that Atta died upon his arrival at the Manial (Qasr El-Aini) Hospital.

Dr Aida Seif El-Dawla, a founding member of the Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence, entered the morgue immediately after the autopsy on Friday afternoon and posted her testimony on the Centre's official page.

The prosecution authority, writes Dr Seif El-Dawla, only ordered an intestinal sample from the body (rather than a full autopsy), which ignores any other possibility outside of the initial hospital report, including any criminal suspicion.

Dr Seif El-Dawla also relates how the physician who carried out the autopsy, Souad Abdel-Ghaffar, showed her a jar containing a roll (presumably used for folding drugs), claiming that it had been extracted from Atta's body.

"The roll looked clean, with only a few small drops of blood on it." On Friday night, Seif El-Dawla exclaimed in a phone call to a programme on satellite TV channel Al-Nahar. "How could the roll be that clean if it has really been taken out of his intestine? Why are there are no traces whatsoever of intestinal fluids on it?"

Dr Seif El-Dawla clarified that the emergency doctors could not save Atta upon his arrival at the hospital because his internal organs had already failed.

Atta's brother appeared on the same television programme, claiming that his brother, Essam, called him on Wednesday to tell him that he was being tortured inside the prison by a police officer named Nour. Some of the prison inmates who knew Atta confirmed to the lawyers that he had been tortured over a span of two days as punishment for sneaking in a contraband SIM card before he died on Thursday. They claim the police forced tubes in Atta’s mouth and anus, which they flushed with a liquid, possibly mixed with other substances.

Two doctors from the Tahrir Doctors association, however, attended the autopsy to monitor its procession. The association then issued a statement Friday night, which, much to the surprise of activists and revolutionaries, read that the doctors had not seen any bruises around the mouth or anus.

Furthermore, the Tahrir Doctors statement denied the presence of any unusual liquids or quantities of water inside Atta's body upon the autopsy.

The Tahrir Doctors statement also included that an encapsulated latex roll containing a "brown substance that resembles hash and 6-9 liquidated pills" inside the stomach.

Some Tahrir Doctors members resigned over the context of the statement: they believe the statement is inaccurate, especially considering that the statement was released before the autopsy sample results were announcement.

Malek Adly, one of the lawyers tending to Atta's case and member of the Hisham Mubarak Legal Centre, accuses the two doctors from the Tahrir association that attended autopsy of not being present during the entire process.

Adly, who was outside the autopsy room, said that one of the doctors entered the room after the autopsy had started. That same doctor kept going in and out of the room. Furthermore, the other doctor stayed for only a brief period inside the room.

Also, a police officer attended the autopsy, according to Adly, which is illegal.

Twenty four-year-old Essam Atta was referred to Torah maximum security prison after a military trial in February, where he was sentenced to two years on charges of thuggery. His case was on the agenda of the No to Military Trials for Civilians rights group.

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