14 Apr 2015

Fears for Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa, behind bars in Egypt

The fall-out from the military junta’s takeover of Egypt continues to affect hundreds of individuals for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The plight of the Al-Jazeera three has focused the spotlight on the dark side of President¬†Sisi’s government, which decided to pick a fight with Qatar, which funds the channel and supported the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt imprisoned the Al-Jazeera journalists working in Cairo instead of pressing whatever case it may have had by other more rational means.

One of them, Peter Greste, has helped shed some light on another unfortunate prisoner in Egypt – a young Irish lad who remains in a prison cell for no discernible reason.

Amnesty and Reprieve have also highlighted his troubling case. Ibrahim Halawa, from Dublin, has now been inside various Egyptian prisons since August 2013. His trial comes up on the 26th of this month. Both organisations regard Ibrahim Halawa as a prisoner of conscience.


(copyright: Halawa family)

Ibrahim Halawa was born and reared in Ireland of Egyptian parents. He went to school in Dublin, played Gaelic games in Dublin and finished his final school exams just before he went to visit Egypt in the summer of 2013.

Ibrahim and his three sisters travelled to Egypt in the summer of 2013 and all four were caught up in the civil unrest which broke out there during their visit.

Family life

Going to Egypt to see relatives of their family was just part of the rhythm of their family life – it happened every summer and this was no different.

One day, they decided to attend a rally commemorating a recent massacre. His sister Somaia, a teacher, put it like this: “You cannot ignore things just because you are in a different culture.”

She told me life in Ireland taught them the potency of peaceful protest, and this was a peaceful vigil until, she says, the security forces began attacking the crowd with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.

Seeking shelter in a mosque, a terrifying siege began that would last 16 hours and lead to their arrest. They insist they and all those around them, both at the protest and in the mosque, had been entirely peaceful.

Mass trial

They were eventually arrested and then imprisoned, along with hundreds of others. Ibrahim’s sisters were released after three months and allowed to return home to Dublin, while Ibrahim has been incarcerated ever since.

He has reportedly been been shot in the hand; he says he has been tortured; and he has been moved between prisons and had his “mass trial” postponed on five occasions.

It was during all of this he shared cells with the Al-Jazeera journalists and, in particular, Peter Greste.

He was arrested as a minor, being 17 at the time. His latest court case postponement occurred last on Sunday 29 March. His family is extremely worried and distraught that these mass trials – where up to 500 people can be caged together and brought to court to be tried as one – will one day throw down a guilty verdict with the resultant death penalty.

A number of Irish MPs have raised Ibrahim’s case in the Dail but the family remains deeply concerned at a perceived lack of progress in his case.

Meanwhile, three days ago a Cairo court sentenced three Egyptian journalists¬† – originally charged with “disturbing the peace” but later charged with “spreading chaos” and “spreading falso information” in their coverage of a sit-in in Cairo in 2013 – to life in prison.

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