Sunday 23 September 2018

Irish teen locked up in Egypt jail fears execution

Halawa brother considered going on hunger strike as he endures horrific prison conditions

Ibrahim Halawa
Ibrahim Halawa
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

A YOUNG Irish citizen locked up in an Egyptian jail has considered a hunger strike amid fears that he will be executed.

Teenager Ibrahim Halawa is forced to drink water from a toilet, endure threats of violence from guards and spend 23 hours daily in a cell with 64 other prisoners.

Ibrahim, the son of Sheikh Hussein Halawa, the Imam of Ireland's largest mosque, was arrested in Cairo last August, along with his sisters Somaia, 28, Omaima, 21, and Fatima, 23. The siblings had travelled to Egypt from their home in Ballycullen, Co Dublin, earlier in the summer for a holiday.

However, the four were forced to seek sanctuary in the Al Fateh mosque after violent clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and the security forces.

Ibrahim, a Leaving Certificate student at the Institute of Education on Dublin's Leeson Street, and his siblings were subsequently jailed in Tora prison and held in separate sections.

While Ibrahim's sisters were released on November 15 last year, their teenage brother was kept in prison and has now been held for over seven months without being charged with any offence.

His family says he believes he may face execution, following the decision by a judge two weeks ago to hand down the death penalty to 529 people accused of rioting.

Ibrahim's sister Omaima this weekend described the horrific conditions her younger brother must endure in one of country's toughest adult prisons, Al-Marg in Cairo, where disease and overcrowding are rampant.

She told the Sunday Independent: "He gets really down within himself but when news came through that 529 were to be executed, he was shocked – he has no idea what his fate will be. It's particularly worrying because the cases of those people sentenced to death aren't much different to his.

"The hardest part for him is all this waiting, because you have to remember he's very young. He turned 18 while in prison.

"In general, prisons in Egypt are extremely tough places, but for men they are much worse. Then there are political people who are treated ten times worse again then normal prisoners.

"Sometimes they're given one hour a day to exercise, but if the officer is not happy with them, he won't let them out at all. The remaining 23 hours is spent in his cell."

According to testimonies from prisoners and those released, detainees are tortured and abused, even sexually, on a regular basis in Egypt. Many inmates, including minors, are subjected to regular beatings, electrocutions and verbal abuse.

Some prisoners say they have been sexually abused or harassed by prison security guards.

Omaima said hygiene "doesn't exist" in Egyptian prisons, while inmates must rely on family members to bring them food, as the prison authorities do not feed them.

"And the bathroom situation is terrible. For us, the bathroom was inside the room, but it wasn't closed off."

She said their mother had moved to Egypt to be with her son because she "refuses to leave one of the family on his own".

"She visits him weekly and contacts us with updates on how he's getting on. She won't leave until he returns with her. Ibrahim gets his food from my mom when she visits him because they're not given anything to eat.

"They're not even given water, they drink from the toilet. My mom tries to bring him water, but sometimes they don't allow it inside.

"Recently, there was an outbreak of a particular disease and prisoners had really bad skin problems. My brother was asking for medication but was refused. Sometimes they allow medication, sometimes they don't."

She said her brother had considered "a couple of times" going on hunger strike, but decided against it because of fear of extreme violence from prison guards.

Omaima added: "Those that go ahead with it are physically tortured in a horrific way. It took my mom a while to convince him not to go through with it because they're capable of anything.

"He's still considering it as he waits for a hearing to be decided."

According to evidence secured for a recent BBC investigation, brutal beatings, sexual abuse and electric shocks are being carried out on detainees, including teenage children, in Egypt.

A growing number of people who have been detained in various prisons and police stations have made various allegations of various forms of torture.

The claims are denied by the military-backed interim government.

But according to an Amnesty International spokesperson quoted on the programme, the Egyptian authorities do not take reports of torture seriously and most go unpunished.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said it was providing "consular assistance" to the Halawa family in both Dublin and Cairo and was continuing to monitor the situation in Egypt.

Sunday Independent

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