Irish student turns 21 in Egyptian jail, as UK admits ‘support’ for Sisi

December 12, 2016

Image of Ibrahim Halawa

An Irish student who was a child when he was arrested in Egypt will tomorrow spend his 21st birthday in an Egyptian court, where he faces the death penalty alongside 493 others.

Ibrahim Halawa, from Dublin, was arrested in 2013 during the army’s breakup of protests in Cairo. He is being tried as an adult despite having been a juvenile at the time of his arrest, in breach of international and Egyptian law. The mass trial – which has been postponed 16 times since it began – is due to restart tomorrow (13th), which is also Ibrahim’s 21st birthday.

Each postponement of the mass trial in Wadi Natrun prison has extended the detention of Ibrahim and his co-defendants, who have reported regular torture. In a letter from prison last month, Ibrahim wrote “I really need to complain to you about how one human enjoys torturing another human.” He has previously said that “It’s normal to be cursed, stripped naked, beaten with a bar, or put in solitary confinement or the ‘tank’… They might also torture another prisoner in front of you.”

Hundreds of people have been sentenced to death since President Sisi took power in Egypt in 2013, while child arrests, torture and enforced ‘disappearances’ are common. Last week, human rights activists in Egypt told reporters that state repression had reached ‘chilling’ levels.

The UK has a close relationship with Egypt’s Government. Last month, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood told MPs that the UK was “providing support” to President Sisi on security issues, while an FCO-funded company, NICO, is involved in a project with the Egyptian justice sector. Human rights organization Reprieve recently discovered that under the EU-backed project, NICO had provided plans and equipment for the building of courthouses – including juvenile courts.

The Foreign Office has told Reprieve that it is aware of Ibrahim’s situation. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee is monitoring the Government’s approach to the case as part of a wider inquiry into the FCO’s human rights work.

Prime Minister Theresa May met President Sisi in September, and – while the Foreign Office says she impressed on him “the importance of human rights” – it was unclear whether any individual cases were raised.

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“President Sisi’s crackdown has included the jailing, torture and sentencing to death of hundreds of alleged protestors – including children. It’s disgraceful that Ibrahim Halawa, who was arrested at 17, is to spend his 21st birthday on trial, facing the death penalty alongside 493 other people, in mass proceedings that make a mockery of justice. Governments that continue to support Sisi – the UK included – must urge Egypt to release Ibrahim immediately, along with the many others who are locked up on trumped-up political charges.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. Further detail on Ibrahim Halawa’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.