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Case Information: Cyril Karabus
Cyril Karabus
COUNTRY:United Arab Emirates
DATE OF ARREST:August 18, 2012
Summary and Current Status
On August 18, 2012, Cyril Karabus, a prominent 78-year-old South African pediatric oncologist and professor emeritus of the University of Cape Town, was detained while in transit at Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He and his family were returning home to South Africa after attending his son’s wedding in Canada. Arrested by a plain-clothed policeman at the passport control desk, his passport was confiscated, and he was led away while his family was forced to board a plane for South Africa. It was only after his arrest that Dr. Karabus learned for the first time that he had been charged and convicted 10 years earlier following a complaint about his treatment of a young patient who died of leukemia while he was working as a locum for five weeks in 2002 at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi. Despite his age and poor health—he has a pacemaker, suffers from coronary heart disease, and had to be moved to the medical wing of the prison during his detention—Dr. Karabus was jailed for two months.  At the seventh court appearance, after four unsuccessful requests for release pending the outcome of his trial, the court ordered his release on bail. Dr. Karabus was released three days later, on October 14, 2012, after his family paid R250,000 (approximately U.S.$68,000) bail, as ordered by the court. He was ordered to remain in the UAE throughout the legal process, and his passport was confiscated.
Dr. Karabus’s retrial began on November 20, 2012.  The judge had ordered that the court and the defense be given the medical file of the patient who died.  On November 18, a copy of part of the medical file was given to the defense, but all of the notes from the time that Dr. Karabus arrived at Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre onwards were missing.  Because the medical documentation pertinent to the case was not made available to the defense by November 20, the judge ordered a second hearing to be held on December 6 and again ordered the prosecution to share the patient‘s entire medical file with the defense.  After six additional hearings, the prosecution finally presented a copy of the entire contents of the patient’s medical file in late December to the defense and to the court.  According to Dr. Karabus and his lawyers, the copy of the complete medical file contained all of the laboratory reports, forms, and notes that clearly demonstrate that Dr. Karabus provided all of the necessary treatments and did not commit any wrongdoing.
On December 25, 2012, the court again requested the prosecution to present the complete original medical file to the court and the defense and ordered another hearing for January 2, 2013. On January 2, the prosecution failed to provide the original file and did not provide a reason. The judge ruled that the prosecution had two days in which to provide the original medical file, but did not set a new court date. Several days later the South African government sent a démarche (a strong diplomatic protest) to the UAE government about the case. Two additional hearings were held without any further progress on his case. On March 19, 2013, a medical review committee appointed to review the case finally met. The committee, after examining the copy of the medical file, absolved Dr. Karabus of any wrongdoing.  It reported its findings to the judge, and, two days later, Dr. Karabus was found not guilty. 
The UAE, however, kept Dr. Karabus’s passport for almost two more months, while the prosecution unsuccessfully appealed his acquittal and, finally, decided not to pursue a final appeal to the UAE’s highest court. The final two weeks before his departure from the UAE were spent shuttling between the prison, the court, and various government offices to acquire the necessary documents and the return of his passport. Finally, early in the morning of May 17, 2013, Dr. Karabus’s received all of the necessary documentation, boarded a flight to South Africa, and arrived in Cape Town at noon. He was greeted at the airport by his overjoyed family, government officials, members of the South African Medical Association, and more than 100 friends and supporters.
Cyril Karabus is a pediatrician, an expert in the fields of pediatric oncology and hematology, and an internationally respected expert in the treatment of childhood cancer.  At the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, he pioneered treatment for cancer and blood disorders and has received public tribute for the dramatic reduction in the mortality rate of children with leukemia from 80% to 20% during his tenure there as head of oncology. Throughout the apartheid era, Dr. Karabus devoted himself to providing cancer treatment to black children in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas.  He is also professor emeritus at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Pediatrics and Child Health.
In 2002, Dr. Karabus worked for Interhealth Canada (a global health management firm) for approximately five weeks at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in the UAE as a locum, temporarily replacing Dr. Lourens de Jager.  During that time, Dr. Karabus treated a three-year-old Yemeni girl who suffered from acute myelocytic leukemia.  She was already undergoing chemotherapy when he took over her care. The treatment recommended to the patient’s parents was a bone marrow transplant, which they refused. Dr. Karabus reportedly then ordered a platelet transfusion, which was carried out and documented in her medical file. The patient’s health deteriorated rapidly, and she died while Dr. Karabus was still working at the Medical Centre. Two weeks after the patient’s death, Dr. Karabus’s locum work was concluded, and he returned to South Africa.  Two weeks after the patient’s death, Dr. Karabus’s locum work was concluded, and he returned to South Africa. Sometime later the girl’s family issued a complaint about her treatment and, unbeknown to Dr. Karabus, he was charged with manslaughter and falsifying documents.  The prosecution reportedly alleged that Dr. Karabus failed to order a platelet transfusion and claimed that would have been the appropriate treatment for the child and that his failure to do so, not her cancer, was the cause of her death.  It was also alleged that he falsified a document stating that he had ordered the transfusion. He was convicted in absentia on both charges, sentenced to three and a half years in prison, and ordered to pay “blood money” (diyyah) in an amount to be determined by the family of the patient.  Dr. Karabus claims he was neither notified of the charges and the trial nor the conviction and sentence and thus never had an opportunity to defend himself in court.
The CHR and other members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, as well as national science academies abroad that are members of the CHR’s international human rights network, sent repeated appeals to the UAE government in Dr. Karabus’s behalf. Academies’ members also wrote notes to Dr. Karabus to let him know that his international scientific colleagues were aware of his situation and were taking actions to help resolve his case. Dr. Karabus’s plight has been of great concern to the international medical community. According to his family, with whom the CHR has been in frequent contact, numerous health professionals have written to the UAE court testifying to his medical expertise and integrity. A month ago the World Medical Association (WMA) issued a resolution expressing its concern that Dr. Karabus was being forced to remain in the UAE indefinitely despite being found innocent by an expert medical panel and the court. The WMA also published “an advisory notice to advise doctors thinking of working in the UAE to note the working conditions and the legal risks of employment there.” It encouraged member national medical associations to do the same. The South African Medical Association also expressed its concern and cautioned other South African medical doctors about the risks of working in the UAE.


Related Links
CHR Action Update: South African Oncologist Forced to Remain in UAE for Appeal (4/12/2013)
HR Network and CHR Action Updates: Elderly South African Pediatric Oncologist’s Trial in the UAE at a Standstill (1/30/2013, 2/25/2013)