By Ibrahim Halawa
2 September 2016
Ibrahim Halawa, near Firhouse, Dublin: ‘In prison, a lack of sun has
caused me many skin diseases, weak bones, weak eyes, and constant pain.’
Photograph: Omaima Halawa
I was arrested when I was caught up in a
protest while on holiday in Egypt in 2013. I fear the trial that could end my
life, and that I’ll never see Ireland again
There are two types of abuse in prison in
Egypt: mental and physical. Verbal abuse doesn’t even count. If I had to
choose, I would always choose the physical abuse – anything mental is 100 times
This is a choice that has become familiar
since I was arrested while on holiday in Egypt in 2013. My three older sisters
and I, all Irish citizens, were caught up in a protest in Cairo. I was 17 at
the time, and about to start my final year of school. My sisters were released
on bail, but I, along with 493 other people, was charged with attending an
illegal protest and have been incarcerated ever since, waiting for a mass
trial, and possibly facing the death penalty.
Each time you are transferred to a new
prison, there is something called “the party”. They show you who’s boss. In
most cases it’s beatings, but in one, we were stripped, told to lie down facing
the ground with our arms behind our back, and they started to jump on our
backs, from one prisoner to the next.
It’s normal to be cursed, stripped naked,
beaten with a bar, or put in solitary confinement or the “tank” (a pitch-black
3.5m x 5.5m cell). They might also torture another prisoner in front of you. Of
course you never forget. Ever.
After a prison “inspection”, you might go
back to your cell and find things missing. If your family visits and you get
something from them that the guards like, you may as well forget it.
Once, coming back from a hearing in my mass
trial, I was hit with the back of an AK47 and asked where I was from. The
officer put his AK47 to my chest and said: “I wish I could take you out, you
fucking Irish. But I can’t.”
During a recent hunger strike, I was left
to die. I was out. My fellow prisoners, with whom I share a cell, banged on the
door for help – they were told: “When he dies, knock.” That is a really small
fraction of what happens and has happened to me.
Why have they abused me? They give two
reasons. First, they say they can’t control the prisoners unless they show them
who is in charge every now and then. They say the police and army were the ones
who sacrificed their lives for Egypt so they should rule it. Nobody is allowed
The capacity of the prison is 2,000. It
currently holds more than 6,000 prisoners. Most cells have at least 30 people
in them and they are all one size, 3.5m x 5.5m. There is no hygiene whatsoever.
The bucket you get food in is the bucket they take the garbage in. It is
prisoners who cook: they take a leak and spit in the food for laughs.
My cell door has “extremely dangerous”
written on it because of a mix-up of prison papers, so I’m currently isolated.
A lack of sun has caused me many skin diseases, weak bones, weak eyes, and
I tend to keep good relationships with
guards, officers, staff and prisoners. I like to leave a good memory, even with
the guards who beat me. Some guards don’t talk, just pose. But I’m very well
known – I have moved a lot, both between and within prisons, and I try my best
to leave a good impression. When history mentions me I want to be known for all
the good memories I left behind.
In my “free” time, I do whatever is in my
ability to do. I learn, draw, sing, pray, laugh, cry, make future plans.
Thinking is the key to prison. It gives you partial freedom. You think so much
you can’t sleep. Most of my thinking is about my family. I have remembered
memories that were long forgotten since my childhood (not that I’m so old).
Every day I think of what it’s going to be like seeing everyone at the airport.
Embarrassing for me if no one turns up …
We have not moved one step forward in the
mass trial. The lawyers keep telling the judge that we should be released. He
was about to do what the four other past judges did and resign, but homeland
security told him no one else will try the case, so he held it for trial of
sentence. It is a disgrace to its name – a “fair trial”. It is not a trial
whatsoever – it breaks every law. I should be released. I can’t speak to the
judge; he can’t ask me any questions. I can’t speak to my lawyer; my lawyer
can’t speak to me. My family are constantly refused entry to the court. I
totally object to it. I never think of getting out and taking revenge – I think
of leaving and searching for help, of helping others.
Ireland – I miss everything about Ireland.
Home, family, friends, the people, school, going out, laughing, love, hiking,
swimming, the kindness. I miss going out to the sights, seeing Ireland and
Irish nature. I miss town and the noise of the city and how at 9pm it shuts and
no one is in the street. I miss the fresh air. TV. Cinema. Fishing. Go-karting.
Shopping. Running for the Dublin bus. Eating at Chippers. Looking far away –
the furthest I have seen in over 1,000 days is less than half a kilometre. I
miss my bed and my pillows. I miss the Cliffs of Moher. The parks. I miss
eating popcorn and cookies. I could go on forever.
I’m really sad about not seeing my dad, who
is old and ill, and my beautiful kind sisters. Valuable days that can’t be
brought back. Family gatherings. All the kids growing up. Finishing school.
Losing my friends due to no contact. I miss soccer. I miss horse riding. MMA. I
wish I could run.
I never ever imagined I would go to prison.
I was shocked even when they kept me for four days. It was finally after six
months and two judges that I found out they weren’t joking.
Acquitted or sentenced, my case isn’t over.
But I do hope I don’t get sentenced. I want to go home.
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