1 September 2014 Edition
Irish teen Ibrahim Halawa on hunger strike in Egyptian prison
More than a year later, no evidence has been shown to substantiate murder or terrorism charges against Ibrahim
OVER A YEAR has passed since 18-year-old Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa was arrested in Egypt alongside his sisters Somaia, Fatima and Omaima for taking part in a protest in support of democratically-elected president Mohammed Morsi after he was ousted in a coup by the Egyptian Army.
When the protest turned violent, the Halawa siblings took refuge in the al-Fateh Mosque. They were arrested when security forces stormed the mosque and shot dead a number of those inside. Ibrahim was wounded in the hand during the raid. Denied medical treatment, his family confirms his hand is now deformed due to the lack of medical care and severe scarring.
While the three sisters were released last November, Ibrahim remains in prison, facing charges which include membership of a terrorist organisation, murder and torching a police station. No book of evidence has been handed over to substantiate any of the charges against him.
In recent months, hundreds of prisoners in Egypt have been sentenced to death in mass trials that have caused outrage among human rights organisations across the globe.
Speaking to An Phoblacht in Dublin, Somaia reveals that her brother was beaten in prison after his mass trial with 480 other demonstrators collapsed when the judge walked out, saying he could not preside over such a trial.
“He was sent into the room without his clothes and his hands behind is back,” Somaia tells me. “He was beaten with a metal chain, not just the normal sticks. When Irish Embassy staff went to meet with him they could actually see the marks on his back.”
As An Phoblacht goes to print, Ibrahim has been on hunger strike for eight days:
“Our family are not happy with the hunger strike, especially my father. He says he does not want Ibrahim to be on hunger strike. I think when Ibrahim hears that he will end it because he respects his father and at the end of the day it is not a safe thing to do.”
Somaia says that while new Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has been more involved than Eamon Gilmore and spoke with the family shortly after his appointment, the farcical nature of the current trial and the fact the Leaving Certificate student has been beaten twice in recent weeks should be enough for the Irish Government to call for his immediate release.
“I appreciate the work they’re doing but we need to ask for his release. Amnesty International has declared him a prisoner of conscience and that he was not involved in any violence.
“I do have hope that the Irish Government are not going to leave my brother like this.”
She says she believes Ibrahim is trying to put on a strong face for the family when they meet him but that spending over a year in prison is a huge ordeal for such a young person.
“He hasn’t lost hope but he has no idea if he will be released because of the corrupt system in Egypt.”
Sinn Féin Foreign Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe TD says heavy sentences recently handed out to Al Jazeera journalists show that the politically-charged atmosphere in Egypt makes it almost impossible for defendants to receive a fair trial.
“As it is increasingly clear that Ibrahim will never receive a fair trial in Egypt, I am calling on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to officially demand that Ibrahim is immediately released and allowed to return to his family in Ireland.”
Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan has been leading a campaign for Ibrahim’s release in the European Parliament and has received significant support from MEPs across the Parliament. She has also raised his case with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton.
“It is a sign of the serious breach of rights Ibrahim has been subjected to that MEPs right across the political spectrum were willing to add their voice to the campaign to see him released,” Lynn Boylan says.
“The mass trials Ibrahim could be subjected to where neither he nor his defence lawyers are able to attend are unlawful and incredibly worrying.”
• Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan MEP and Rathfarnham Councillor Sarah Holland welcome the involvement of human rights organisation 'Reprieve' in Ibrahim’s case