Sister of Irish teenager detained since 2013 in Egypt calls on Irish government to fight for his release

ibrahim_halawa_via_FBIrish teenager, Ibrahim Halawa, was just 17 years old when, during one of his family’s annual holidays to Egypt, he was arrested during protests that took place in Cairo in August 2013. As we approach two years since his arrest, Egypt Solidarity Initiative spoke to his sister, Somaia (27), about Ibrahim’s case.

Somaia and Ibrahim were arrested along with their two sisters, Fatima and Omaima, having attended demonstrations against the massacre of protesters supporting ousted president, Mohammed Morsi. After three months, his sisters were allowed to return to Ireland but Ibrahim remains in Egypt, currently awaiting the next stage of a mass trial along with 493 others. In March 2015, Ibrahim was moved to Wadi Natron Prison, one of the worst prisons in Egypt renowned for torture and abuse of inmates.

Since his arrest, Ibrahim’s health has deteriorated. As well as being denied medical treatment for a gunshot wound to his hand sustained on the day of his arrest, requests for medicine to ease breathing problems are also rejected by the authorities. Somaia told us:

There are hardly any windows, no sunlight, and he has a chest problem. It wasn’t diagnosed before he went into prison and he is not allowed medicine. The embassy is refusing to get him medicine because they say it has to go through a doctor, which can’t happen. He is only allowed Panadol, which is very rare. He is not in a good condition.

Ibrahim’s case is indicative of Egypt’s repressive judicial system that prevents access to legal advice or defence, and is upholding mass trials and death penalties, as Somaia illustrates:

Where the trial is held is soundproof so he can’t talk when there is a hearing in court. When the lawyer went to see him in the prison, he was only allowed to see him behind writes which means he wasn’t able to talk properly, and it only lasted for five minutes.

Parallels have been drawn between Ibrahim’s detention by Sisi’s regime and the actions of the British government during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and, despite Ibrahim’s case being supported by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Reprieve, Somaia and her family feel the Irish government could be doing much more to help to secure medical treatment, legal support and, ultimately, his release:

They [the Irish government] are agreeing that Ibrahim will have a trial even though they don’t agree with the process. Ibrahim is no longer able to defend himself because he is part of a mass trial… We are starting to feel that the Irish government are supporting what is happening in Egypt. They never come out and say they are concerned about him being tortured. We are questioning the whole system: is it to do with international relations with Egypt and the beef trade? Where is their human rights stance?

When asked what action she would like people to take, Somaia was thankful for the support of opposition parties, and in particular members of Sinn Fein like Lynn Boylan MEP. She urged individuals to do all they can to support Ibrahim’s case, noting that worldwide campaigns helped to release Ibrahim’s former cellmate, Australian journalist, Peter Greste, and a Canadian arrested at the same time as Ibrahim:

Put pressure on the government, from all over. Contact the Egyptian embassy in the UK, US, whatever. Make the case go wider so it’s not just coming from Ireland. People can email, call, write… One of the people who was with Ibrahim was Canadian and he was released because he had constant support from all over and his government. As the days continue, there is no end in sight. This is the longest case in the Egyptian system where no decision has been made.

As we ended our conversation, Somaia remarked that it would be easy to forget Ibrahim had only just left school when he was arrested: he looked older than his 17 years, was tall, broad and “a leader” who hoped to be an engineer on aeroplanes. She described her younger brother:

Ibrahim was the last person I would ever thought [would] be arrested. He was never involved in politics. He would protest about Palestine but he differentiates between politics and protests to support humans. His cell-mate, Peter Greste called him a ‘character’. He is so human, very kind and gentle… I don’t understand why people would ask why was he there in the first place? I would like to remind people he was trying to be a human with humanity.

Somaia ended our conversation by remarking, “If you stand for justice for others, then they will stand for you…

What you can do:

  • Find out more about the campaign for Ibrahim Halawa here, and via the campaign official Facebook page. Youtube videos here, here and here.
  • Join the mobilisation against the visit of Egyptian dictator Abdelfattah el-Sisi to the UK – find out more here