Thursday 22 March 2018

Ibrahim Halawa abandons jail hunger strike after father's plea

Ibrahim Halawa
Ibrahim Halawa


An Irish teenager who has spent over a year imprisoned without charge in Egypt has ended the hunger strike he began in his Cairo jail cell two weeks ago following an emotional plea from his father.

Ibrahim Halawa (18), the son of Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Ireland's most senior Muslim cleric and Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, went on hunger strike after his trial was abandoned in farcial circumstances earlier this month.

"Ibrahim is not on hunger strike anymore because his health was affected. He got very sick and my dad wrote him a letter and said that it was affecting us and that he was not happy with it," Ibrahim's sister Somaia told the Sunday Independent.

"Another reason he stopped was because the prison guards told him they would not give him access to water and that they would let him die. They said 'we are not going to bring water for you and no one will hear about you, we will leave you die in this room'."

After receiving another beating at the hands of his jailers, Ibrahim was moved to a different section of Tora prison last week known as 'The Farm' at the request of the Irish Embassy in Cairo, whose officials noticed serious marks and bruising on his body during a routine visit.

"It's a better prison, but it is still a prison at the end of the day," Somaia added. "The consular saw where he had been beaten and asked that he was moved immediately. Even though I really appreciate this, I think we could have used this reason to ask for his release on bail. Ibrahim is still suffering."

Ibrahim was just 17 when he was arrested alongside his three older sisters in Cairo in August 2013, following a day of protest, which followed the ousting of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

After security officials began firing on protestors, the Halawa siblings called their father in Dublin, who advised them to seek refuge at the al-Fatah mosque in Cairo's Ramses Square.

However, the mosque was later surrounded by Egyptian police and all of the occupants were arrested. Ibrahim's sisters - Somaia (28), Fatima (23) and Omaima (21) were released from prison last November and returned to Ireland. Ibrahim, however, has had his period of detention extended on a number of occasions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has said that he is taking a 'close personal interest' in Ibrahim's case and he has raised the matter with the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Shoukry.

In a letter - seen by the Sunday Independent - sent over a month ago to the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, from his prison cell in Cairo, Ibrahim detailed the appalling conditions he has suffered since his arrest last year.

"I was beaten by the back of the weapon just because I said I was Irish," Ibrahim wrote.

The Irish Leaving Cert student was extremely critical at the failure of Ms Ashton's lack to respond to his plight.

"You have made being European very worthless," he said. "If no action is taken immediately, I have no other option but to go on a hunger strike. I have been patient enough now, I know what my rights are and certainly you are not granting me any of them. If you consider being innocent is a crime then let not anyone call for freedom."

Amnesty International is campaigning on Ibrahim's behalf and has adopted the teen as a 'prisoner of conscience' throughout its global network.

Amnesty is urging people around the world to support Ibrahim and voice their opposition to his continued detention to the Egyptian authorities. In the first 48 hours of their letter writing campaign 1,000 people acted online to help Ibrahim.

"It is important to emphasize that this case is currently under review by the Egyptian Judiciary," the statement said, before reiterating Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan's comments that Ireland cannot interfere in Egypt's judicial affairs.

Ibrahim was born in Ireland and has lived in Firhouse, Co Dublin, all of his life. He was in Egypt with his family for the summer and to attend a wedding, when the protests began.

The date for Ibrahim's next mass trial hearing, in which he is due to be tried alongside 493 other defendants, has yet to be decided.

Sunday Independent

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