herald

Friday 18 August 2017

'It feels like part of my body is missing'

Somaia Halawa tells Laura Lynott of her family's ongoing struggle to have her brother freed from prison in Egypt

Omaima (left) and Somaia, sisters of Ibrahim Halawa
Omaima (left) and Somaia, sisters of Ibrahim Halawa

More than three years after Ibrahim Halawa was imprisoned, his family are continuing their fight to have him released from prison in Egypt.

Somaia Halawa (30) has told the Herald of their ongoing campaign to have her younger brother released from the jail he is being held in so he can come home to Ireland.

Somaia had been studying for her masters in education at UCD, but in the fight to free her brother she put her life on hold and has, for now, abandoned university.

To her, she and Ibrahim are as Irish as the national soccer team.

Somaia moved here at the age of 10. Ibrahim is the only member of the family actually born here.

Ibrahim Halawa
Ibrahim Halawa

His Irishness is something that Ibrahim, from Firhouse, Dublin, wears with pride - and all he wants is to return home.

After years of praying for her brother's release, Somaia still cannot believe how a 17-year-old Irish boy was imprisoned in Egypt in 2013 "for believing in human rights".

"It feels like part of your body is missing," she said. "You try to cope, but it's like one of your hands and fingers are missing and a day feels like a year.

Terrorist

"I don't understand what some people assume about my brother, my family. A year ago the Egyptian ambassador stated what's happened is because of my dad.

"He said my dad was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and someone locally said to us they don't know why claims are being made calling my dad a terrorist.

"My dad is not a terrorist. He is an Imam and in his lectures he condemns killings.

"Ibrahim is Irish, regardless of the colour of his skin or his religion, and he's not a terrorist or political.

"My brother was only ever interested in human rights, and any time he saw people dying on TV it bothered him, so when he saw children, elderly people, being killed in Egypt in 2013, of course he marched. He marched for human rights, not for politics."

The demonstration was in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power by the military.

In August 2013, Ibrahim and his three sisters took refuge in a mosque which was surrounded by the army. They were eventually taken by authorities.

The sisters were released from prison in November 2013, but he is still locked up, marking his 21st birthday earlier this month inside jail and watching as his trial was postponed for the 17th time.

"As a family, it's very hard for us," said Somaia. "We couldn't celebrate his 21st birthday because Ibrahim isn't here and his trial day was postponed.

"Two thousand messages were sent to us on his birthday and we received a card from his primary school principal and secondary school teacher, which was amazing.

"My aunt Ola was able to take a cake and balloons into prison for him and she tried to make it a different day for Ibrahim, but it's still a prison.

"My aunt said he was very happy and he told her he didn't expect the cake and balloons.

"But often my mum, Anina, who's 60, an elderly lady, can't get simple things like rice or medicine in to Ibrahim.

"They search her and stop her bringing things in.

"Some days my mother, who's been in Egypt almost all the time since Ibrahim was arrested, says he's feeling in better spirits, but then other times she says he is very low.

"I think if he is in good spirits sometimes he's only doing that for mum's sake. I know he wouldn't want to upset mum."

Inhumane

"Ibrahim was a normal Dublin teenager before this cruel twist of fate.

"He hung out with friends, played football, toyed with the idea of becoming an artist and finally settled on a sensible career, aiming to become an engineer.

"I fear for my brother now, in such inhumane conditions. I haven't spoke to him since 2013.

"It's his basic right to have communication with his family, and it breaks my heart that we can't speak to him.

"I know he holds on to a dream of freedom, of coming home to Ireland, his home. I hope this year that dream comes true."

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