herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Irish teen on hunger strike after two years in Egyptian jail

Halawa family
Halawa family
Ibrahim Halawa

IRISH teen Ibrahim Halawa, who has been held in an Egyptian Prison for almost two years, has gone on hunger strike.

His family have expressed increasing concern after receiving a letter detailing his fears of torture and abuse at the prison.

The letter written by Ibrahim (19) says he is on a hunger strike and intends to continue until he is allowed to return home.

Originally from Firhouse, Co Dublin, Ibrahim is on trial with about 420 others after protesting outside the Fatah mosque in central Cairo in 2013.

The protesters had gathered to express their discontent over the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi.

In his letter, Ibrahim describes brutal conditions in which he is forced to cram into a ten-person cell with about 40 others.

He says that he wakes up every night to noises of torture, fearing that he will "be next".

"Where are my human rights when I have been thrown in prison for two years with no evidence?

"Where is the human right when I don't see the light of the sun?"

He also details his fears of the officers in the prison who hit him "for every word … that [they] don't like".

He expresses his pain at not being allowed to hug his own mother.

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"I announce my hunger strike from this day and until I am brought home," Ibrahim wrote in the letter.

His mother recently visited her son, bringing medicine for his complaints of worsening chest pains.

The family fear the teen may have inherited a heart condition from his father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa - Ireland's most senior Muslim cleric.

This morning his sister, Somaia Halawa, said that her brother had "no choice" but to go on hunger strike.

"He has realised that he is fighting for his own life," she told the Herald.

"He is essentially dying in there anyway, and this is his last option.

"When you're in prison you are drained both mentally and physically, so you are essentially gone, you're dead," she said.

She added that she and her family were very upset that Ibrahim had resorted to not eating, but that they felt he was doing the right thing.

She said that the family were concerned for his mental well-being and that they felt he was living in "inhumane conditions".

He had previously threatened a hunger strike in August of last year, but did not go through with it after an emotional plea from his father.

However this time his sister believes the situation is "different".

"He was in better conditions then, surrounded by people he knew, but they are all gone now," she said.

Help

She again called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to do more to help him.

The Department, along with the Irish Embassy, have said they are pressing for Ibrahim's release on bail, allowing him to return to Ireland.

The most recent adjournment in the case came when 16 co-defendants were sitting prison exams and therefore could not attend the court.

The judge in the case is also coming up to retirement and his potential replacement during the trial had led to concerns of more delays in the case.

A Government representative was also present at recent court proceedings.

The Department for Foreign Affairs says that it remains "committed" to taking action to ensure a positive outcome.

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