Irish Muslim held by Egypt ‘has lost 30 kilos’

Two-and-a-half years after he was arrested in the chaos of a Cairo protest, one man was told last week that his trial was to be delayed for the thirteenth time.

The 20-year-old is one of a huge number of people – 493 defendants in all – facing a mass trial connected to the events that occurred during a mosque siege in August 2013.

What distinguishes Ibrahim Halawa from his fellow Egyptian inmates is that he is a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. But his home country’s diplomatic efforts have so far failed to secure his release.

Halawa was just a teenager when he was arrested along with his three elder sisters at the al-Fath mosque in Cairo’s Ramses square. The Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators had been holed up in the building in support of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president who had been ousted in a military coup the previous month.

There were bloody clashes when security forces moved in to round up protesters. Halawa’s three sisters were subsequently released but Ibrahim remains in custody pending a trial – which was adjourned on 6 March for the thirteenth time.

The advocacy group Reprieve says Halawa has been beaten in detention and kept in solitary confinement and his hand is permanently disfigured after he was denied medical treatment for a gunshot wound.

His family says he is now on a gradual hunger strike.

“He’s reducing his food little by little,” his sister Somaia told Anadolu Agency during an interview in Dublin’s Clonskeagh mosque.

“He cut off sugar, but then he cut off meat, all these kind of things, and now he’s into fruits and water – and people think ‘Oh wow, you have fruits in the prison’. That’s not the way it is. We mean whatever my Mum is able to bring to him – apple, dates, banana, whatever is available.

“That’s why he lost 30 kilos.”

Halawa’s father Hussein is the imam of the mosque, the largest in Ireland.

“Ibrahim is Irish. He was born in Dublin, here. The government of Egypt, they kidnapped [him] from the mosque,” he said.

But he says “my government”, putting his hand on his chest in reference to Ireland, could do more to help his son: “They do something, but they’re not doing everything.”

Hussein spoke to Anadolu Agency mostly in English, but occasionally used his daughter Somaia to translate longer Arabic remarks.

The family’s strongest belief is that Ireland could be using more aggressive diplomatic tactics to secure his release.

Somaia said: “We’re not saying they’re doing nothing, but they’re using a very soft approach that doesn’t suit the Egyptian government. You need to be a bit harsh on a system like this in order for them to respond because they’ve kept Ibrahim in the worst prison.

“What we’re saying to the Irish government is there’s a lot in our hands that we can use. There’s Law 140, it’s called a decree, that’s the same as used for [Al Jazeera journalist] Peter Greste. That’s to say that Ibrahim can be released and returned back to his government if his government asks for his release.”

Greste, an Australian national, was detained in Cairo in December 2013 on charges of endangering national security. He was subsequently found guilty and deported before a retrial could begin.

Halawa’s family say either law 140-2014, which covers the deportation of foreign criminals, or a decree – in essence, a presidential pardon – could also be issued for him because he is a foreign national.

But Halawa’s case in complicated by the fact he has not even been tried, let alone convicted.

Ireland’s Department for Foreign Affairs did not directly respond to an Anadolu Agency query on whether it thought Halawa’s detention was legal.

But in a detailed statement a spokeswoman said the Irish government’s strategy is based on “two clear objectives: first, to see Mr. Halawa released by the Egyptian authorities so that he can return to his family and his studies in Ireland and, second, to provide consular support for his welfare while he remains in detention.”

The spokeswoman added: “Embassy officials visited Mr. Halawa for the 50th time on 11 February 2016. This high level of consular visitation indicates clearly the priority we are placing on doing all that we can to carefully monitor his welfare in detention, and to advocate strongly on his behalf to the Egyptian authorities.

“In addition, the Irish Government has also formally supported applications by Mr. Halawa’s Egyptian legal team for release on bail and release under the Presidential Decree, the latter of which was made in February 2015.”

The Halawa family’s appeal for more action comes after an inconclusive election in Ireland, where the governing coalition lost its majority. Their call was echoed by Fianna Fail, the center-right opposition party that came a strong second in February’s election.

The party’s foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith said: “Ibrahim has been in prison awaiting trial since 2013 and has been subject to dubious court proceedings ever since. He has been denied the opportunity of a fair trial and he is essentially undergoing indefinite detention.

“It’s unacceptable that an Irish citizen, who was aged just 17 when taken into custody, is being denied a fair trial.

“The government needs to step up its efforts with the utmost urgency to secure the release of Ibrahim as it is evident he is not being afforded a fair trial.”