Family fearful as Irish student is moved to new jail
The family of an Irish student locked up in a Cairo jail for the last 12 months fear for his safety after he was suddenly whisked away to another detention centre ahead of his appearance before one of Egypt's notorious mass trials this week.
Ibrahim Halawa (18), from Firhouse, Co Dublin, is due to be tried alongside 482 other defendants in a court hearing this Tuesday in the Egyptian capital.
The mass trial was originally set to take place on July 16, but was postponed at the last minute, due to what the Egyptian authorities described as "technical difficulties" thought to be associated with a lack of space in the court cells and legal representation for all 483 defendants.
Ibrahim's case took a further twist this week, when prison officers moved the teen to another facility on Thursday without notice. Neither his family nor legal team were notified about the transfer.
The Irish Embassy was not notified of Ibrahim's prison transfer by authorities in Egypt. However, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed to the Sunday Independent that consular staff were made aware of the move as a result of "their ongoing contacts with the Halawa family."
"Diplomats from the Embassy will seek to visit Ibrahim at Tora prison immediately after the weekend," the spokesperson added.
Ibrahim's sister Somaia believes that the move was a tactical ploy to taunt her brother, who she says has been relentlessly bullied by prison staff throughout his period of detention.
She told the Sunday Independent: "They are always putting him down and telling him he will never get out. He has lost hope. At the start he had hope that the Irish Government would do everything, no matter what, to help him out, but he has lost that hope.
"He has been moved to a different prison, we just found out, so God knows what he is going through. My mum just went to visit him and the prison guards just said he was not there. This is just another way for them to mentally torture him; he may have been thinking he was going out and then he just ended up in a different prison.
"He is happy when our mum visits him and he has hope in God, and he understands that he has not done anything wrong, but being in prison has an effect on you. I cannot explain what he is going through."
Ibrahim, who turned 18 in prison, was arrested last August alongside his three older sisters following a day of protests called by the Muslim Brotherhood against the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi.
His sisters Somaia (28), Fatima (23) and Omaima (21) were released from prison on bail last November and allowed to return to Ireland the following month. However, Ibrahim has had his period of detention extended a number of times, despite the fact that no specific charges have been made against him.
The four Halawa siblings were arrested at the al-Fatah mosque in Cairo's Ramses Square, where they sought refuge when the family claim security officials began firing on protesters, who were peacefully demonstrating in the streets. The mosque was subsequently surrounded by Egyptian security forces and the occupants arrested.
Somaia said: "When we were in the mosque, Ibrahim had the chance to run away and leave us; there was a chance when he could have escaped, but he realised we were not beside him - his sisters were not with him and he came all the way back in to save us. He is a hero. Not everyone would do that, but he came back for us and he is now behind bars and we are out."
Members of the Halawa family were met by the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Charles Flanagan, on July 31 and have welcomed assurances from him that he will do all he can to help bring Ibrahim home. But as Ibrahim's trial approaches this week, the Halawas have become increasingly desperate for the Government to try different methods to secure the Leaving Certificate student's release.
Speaking after his meeting with the Halawa family, MrFlanagan said he was taking a "close personal interest" in Ibrahim's case, which was raised with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, during his first day in office.
However, Mr Flanagan said he was conscious of the delicacy required for this highly contentious diplomatic matter and stopped short of demanding Ibrahim's release.
The minister told the Sunday Independent: "In my contacts with Minister Shoukry, I stressed that while I was in no way attempting to interfere in the judicial process, it is the Government's view that Ibrahim should not be tried as part of a trial involving a large number of defendants; that he should be advised of the specific charges to be laid against him; and be allowed to be defended in court by a lawyer of his choosing."
Next Sunday will mark exactly one year since Ibrahim was arrested in Cairo. Ibrahim is the youngest son of Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Ireland's most senior Muslim cleric and Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dublin.
Ibrahim was born in Ireland in the Coombe Hospital and has lived in Firhouse, Co Dublin all of his life. He is a talented artist and keen footballer.
Before his arrest during a trip to Cairo for a family wedding, Ibrahim had just completed his Leaving Certificate exams and was due to begin college last September.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the Irish Ambassador to Egypt, Isolde Moylan, plans to attend Ibrahim's hearing on Tuesday to "observe" the proceedings, flanked by other Irish consular staff and members of the EU delegation to Egypt.
In April, a court in the southern Egyptian city of Minya sentenced 683 people to death in the most recent of a series of mass trials held in the country. The ruling came just one month after 529 people were given a similar sentence.
The Egyptian authorities allege that those sentenced are supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled by a military coup last year.
Last week, US President Barack Obama called for the release of three Al Jazeera journalists, two Canada citizens and one Australian man, who were convicted of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and given seven and 10-year jail terms in June.