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Sunday 31 August 2014

'I was stripped naked and then beaten by jailers'

Irish student locked up in Egypt tells of horror in letter from his cell to EU foreign affairs chief

Joanna Kiernan

Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30

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JAILED: Ibrahim Halawa (18) was arrested with his three sisters after being caught up in protests in Cairo last August
JAILED: Ibrahim Halawa (18) was arrested with his three sisters after being caught up in protests in Cairo last August

AN Irish Leaving Cert student locked up in one of Egypt's toughest prisons for the last 324 days has revealed how he was "stripped naked and beaten" by his jailers as he prepares to face trial this month.

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The words of Ibrahim Halawa are heard for the first time in a letter sent to Catherine Ashton - the EU's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy - from his prison cell in Cairo.

In the letter - seen by the Sunday Independent - Ibrahim (18) pleads with Ms Ashton for her help and describes the appalling conditions of his arrest and detention.

"I was stripped naked and beaten," he writes. "My parents were told I was not here. I am not allowed to even call my father."

Ibrahim also describes how he was taunted by prison guards, who told him: "'Do you think the EU are going to save you? The passport is nothing, you are not someone important. They will not come and take you out.' But I know I am important, I am human and that is enough," Ibrahim said.

The teenager, who will appear before one of Egypt's notorious mass trials alongside up to 150 other people on July 16, also hit out at Ms Ashton and the EU for failing to respond to his plight.

"If I am to be killed by any cop who wishes to kill me, or given the death sentence or life if they wish, with no evidence held against me, I hold you finally responsible for whatever happens to me," the Leaving Certificate student from Firhouse in Dublin added.

Ibrahim was arrested in Cairo last August 17 along with his three older sisters, Omaima (21), Fatima (23) and Somaia (28). Their arrests followed a day of protest in Cairo called by the now banned Muslim Brotherhood group.

It has been claimed the military-backed government, which took over in Egypt after the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July last year, has been targeting those it sees as Muslim Brotherhood supporters of international interest, in order to portray the organisation as a clandestine, global network of terrorists.

"They have targeted people from other nationalities," Somaia told the Sunday 
Independent.

"When my sisters and I were taken to prison there was 33 girls together, but 30 were released and they just kept the three of us when they discovered we lived in Ireland."

The Halawa sisters were released in November and returned to Ireland last December, but Ibrahim's detention has been extended on a number of occasions.

"As much as we are happy that Ibrahim finally has a hearing, we are in fear of what will happen," Somaia added.

"For him it is some hope, he says he just wants to see the light outside, even if he gets a prison sentence, going to court in July means he will get out of prison for that few hours."

Somaia said the family feels very let down by both the EU and the Irish Government.

"We need more support," Somaia said. "The Government should understand that Ibrahim is now almost a year in prison without charge and that their actions have not been effective. So we need to try something else. They say they can do more after the hearing, but if he gets sentenced, that's it."

Somaia also criticised Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello, who last week claimed the Government was doing everything it could to secure Ibrahim's release.

She told the Sunday Independent: "I was disappointed when Joe Costello said that they have asked for Ibrahim's freedom. Every time we have a meeting with Foreign Affairs I ask why they have not asked for his freedom and they say we cannot do this, they cannot interfere in this way.

"They say that all they can do is make sure he has a fair trial and that his human rights are being met."

Ibrahim is the son of Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Ireland's most senior Muslim cleric and Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh.

It has been reported that the mosque is sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, but Somaia denies that her family has any connection to the group.

"My dad has nothing at all to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, none of us do. We've been here in Ireland over 20 years," she said.

The Irish Embassy in Egypt has been pursuing a request for Ibrahim to be allowed to make a phone call to, or take a call from, his father, which has not yet been permitted.

Last month, the Sunday Independent revealed that Ibrahim has been left permanently deformed after prison authorities refused to give the teenager medical treatment for a bullet wound sustained to his hand at the time of his arrest.

The Halawas have been receiving regular consular support from the Irish ambassador in Egypt and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin since their ordeal began.

After 11 months of Ibrahim being detained without charge, the family have grown frustrated with the pace at which the Irish and EU authorities have been moving on the case and critical of the efforts made to secure his release.

However, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said it "absolutely refutes any suggestion that the Halawa siblings have received anything less than full consular support".

The Department said consular officials and the Irish Ambassador to Egypt, Isolde Moylan, have visited Ibrahim in detention on 18 separate occasions since his arrest last August. The spokesman added: "In its dealings with the authorities, the Embassy has sought to stress Ibrahim's young age, the length of time he has already been in detention, and the necessity for him to return to Ireland as soon as possible to continue his studies for his Leaving Certificate examination as mitigating factors in his case."

Repeated requests by the Sunday Independent for comment to the Egyptian Ambassador to Ireland, Sherif Elkholi, went unanswered.

Sunday Independent

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