A British Pakistani doctor who was assaulted at his child’s hospital bedside along with his wife, who is also a doctor, said that he decided to speak out to save others from the same discrimination and hate.
Dr Rashid Abbasi, a graduate of Dow Medical College Karachi, and his wife, Dr Aliya Abbasi, said they were subjected to violence by the Northumbria police as they sat by their six-year-old daughter Zainab’s bedside at a hospital.
Doctors at the hospital had wanted the couple to leave the room so Zainab’s life support could be switched off for her to die.
The couple was speaking to media from their home in Country Durham, near the Scottish border.
Footage widely publicised on British and international media this week, shows the Pakistani doctor being dragged away from his daughter’s bedside, handcuffed and beaten by four police officers – while the local hospital’s staff stood watching after calling the police to remove the couple from their daughter’s bedside.
Abbasi said that his wife was assaulted first by the officers before they turned to him.
Zainab had complex needs due to a rare degenerative condition, and doctors had told the couple that she had only a few hours left to live.
She died a week after her parents were forcibly removed from the hospital last year.
There were reporting restrictions in place on the incident, and the Abbasis had to fight a complex legal battle to be able to tell their story to the world and to obtain footage from the police.
The National Health Service (NHS) hospital trust cannot be named for legal reasons, but said the decision to involve police was never taken lightly.
Abbasi explained that Zainab suffered from Niemann-Pick Disease and the after-effects of swine flu, which she contracted when she was two.
In 2018, she suffered from a flare-up of her lung condition after a viral infection.
Doctors advised the couple that it would be “kind” to let her “go”, as she had no chances of surviving.
However, Abbasi said that they advised the doctors on what treatment to give Zainab, and on both occasions, the child responded well, defying the doctors’ analysis.
Last year, the Abbasis told the doctors not to take Zainab off the ventilator as she was doing fine and responding well to treatment.
She was hospitalised in the summer of 2019 and was put on life support at the family’s local hospital, in the northeast of England.
“Three days before the attack on us, Zainab watched three TV shows of her choice,” he said. “She was holding my hand and communicating all the time when she needed to.
“She was communicating through hand movement and her eyes.”
Abbasi and his wife, both senior surgeons at the NHS, had a meeting with doctors for about 25 minutes where they were told that she will be taken off the ventilator.
Abbasi said that he knew the doctors had made up their mind that they will take Zainab off life support, which was why he chose to remain by her side.
The doctors did not like that, he said, and they called the police “to come and remove us”.
Within minutes, four officers from the Northumbria Police arrived while Abbasi was holding his daughter’s hand at her bedside, with Zainab’s mum and their couple’s teenage son seated nearby.
The officers asked the parents to step away.
Abbasi told the police that being an NHS doctor, he knew his rights and that the police had no legal grounds to remove him because he had done nothing wrong, and as well as being a parent, he had the right to be with his daughter.
“I didn’t want to move from there, because I knew that they will take my daughter off life support. That’s exactly what they wanted to do,” he said.
“The hospital staff lied to the police that I was being disruptive and aggressive. That’s not true. I was only standing up for my rights, for rights of my daughter.”
The first officer pulled Aliya Abbasi to the floor after she asked them not to remove her husband.
“I was told that I should not speak as it was not about me but my husband. I was pinned on a chair by two security guards. They didn’t respect my rights as a Muslim woman, as a woman, [and] as a member of the public,” she said.
“They held me back with so much force that I was left with bruises on my arms, and I had to get medical treatment for the injury caused by the heavy-handed security team.”
Aliya Abbasi said that she saw how her husband was pulled to the floor and manhandled by the police.
“When I cried for help, they drew the curtain so I couldn’t see what the police were doing to him,” she said. “They drew the curtain while pinning me on the chair, by force, but I could hear screams of my husband as he was beaten by the police.”
“The police abused my husband. I told to the police that he’s a heart patient, but they didn’t care and didn’t want to listen. They were ruthless in how they treated my husband.”
While she was restrained, the officers physically restrained Abbasi, strapped his legs together and handcuffed him before wheeling him out of the area.
Abbasi said he suffered a heart attack as the police continued to assault him.
“I asked the police to let me take medicine, but they refused. I told them I am a heart patient but they didn’t listen. One police officer told me that that they will let me take medicine if I behaved well.
“Even if I was a convicted criminal, I had right to medical treatment, but I was denied that right by the police.”
Abbasi described the assault: “They used their knees and elbows to hit in my chest, lower abdomen, stomach and legs, out of the body cam area.
“They made sure that they hit my knees and kicked me so that their hits are not captured on the camera.
“But the camera [recording] of 11 minutes tells the whole story of how I was assaulted.”
Abbasi was later released after the police realised that he has suffered a heart attack.
Abbasi said: “We are still living the nightmare, I still wake up in the middle of the night feeling someone is pulling a tube from my daughter and tightening my handcuffs.”
Christian Legal Aid has started to take legal action against the hospital trust.
“We had the option of staying quiet, but we have decided to take a stand for our Zainab and for everyone else in this country,” Abbasi said. “No parent should go through what we have been made to suffer.”
“No daughter of any parent should be denied her rights like our daughter was. We were brutalised by the police, but the main blame lies with the hospital staff for telling a bogus story to the police to act against us.
“It’s the hospital staff that’s responsible for attack on us. We will not rest until justice [is given to us].”
The NHS trust has said: “It is essential that we maintain a safe and secure environment for our patients and families.
“Our staff always go to strenuous lengths to ensure that families’ wishes are respected, and that they are supported as they approach the end of their child’s life, and make all possible efforts to ensure this is peaceful and dignified.”
“We responded to a call of a man being violent and abusive towards staff, and that he had assaulted a consultant,” said Northumbria Police.
“While we recognised this was a very distressing time for him and his family, our duty was to ensure the safety of all those present.
“We are in the process of reviewing a civil claim, so it would be inappropriate to comment any further,” added police.
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