We often take for granted that the justice system figures out who’s done right, who’s done wrong and that it does it quickly. While that’s often the case, sometimes, in some parts of the world, justice is far less swift and far less righteous.
When one teenager was overseas, away from his parents and his home, he got involved with a foreign country’s justice system. He would find out that sometimes it takes more than innocence to protect you from punishment…
Featured Photo Credit: www.thejournal.ie
A Dublin Boy
Though you might not guess from his name, Ibrahim Halawa was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa is the most senior Muslim cleric in the country and is the imam of Ireland’s largest mosque in the Dublin suburb of Clonskeagh.
Hussein and his wife were both born in Egypt and immigrated to Ireland with their three daughters a year before Ibrahim was born. Though they now lived in Ireland, the Halawas made regular family trips to the couples’ homeland…
Holiday to Egypt
In the summer of 2013, the 17-year-old Ibrahim Halawa and his 3 older sisters were on such a trip. But because of the politics of that summer, it proved to be a very unfortunate time to be in Egypt. During their trip, anti-government protests erupted in Cairo as people protested in support of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
Stay Out Of Trouble
Ibrahim’s Egyptian-born parents urged him and his sisters to avoid the protests. Unfortunately, their curiosity got the better of them. “I had no clue what was going on in Egypt at the time,” Ibrahim said. “I went to a few protests, including anti-Morsi ones, but everyone did back then, and I wanted to see all sides.”…
Eruption of Violence
The Halawa children went to one particular protest in Cairo in the middle of August that ended up erupting in violence. Throughout the day, gunfights broke out between protesters and government forces all throughout the city.
Sit In At The Mosque
At the time, Ibrahim and his sisters had gone to a sit in demonstration in the Al-Fath mosque after two of their friends were killed at a separate rally. When the fighting broke out, that sit in turned into a siege that lasted most of the day. Eventually, government forces stormed the mosque and began making mass arrests…
Who’s Done What?
Because of the widespread, grassroots nature of the protests throughout the city, it was difficult for the government to determine who had been out committing acts of violence, who had been protesting peacefully, and who had simply been caught up in the madness. The government also wanted to send a strong message that any sort of protesting would not be tolerated.
For those reasons, it was nearly 3 months before Ibrahim’s sisters were released from jail, even though they were never charged with any crime. But those 3 months in jail would pale in comparison to what would happen to their brother Ibrahim…
Rather than let Ibrahim return home to Ireland with his sisters, the authorities decided to consider him Egyptian, even though he only spoke rudimentary Arabic. He was kept in jail and eventually charged with a slew of crimes from inciting violence to murder. If he was found guilty, it was possible that Ibrahim could be sentenced to death and executed in the homeland of his parents, never returning to his home again.
To make matters worse, he was going to be tried as part of a collective trial with nearly 500 other Egyptian young men and boys. That meant than rather than going before a judge quickly to explain his situation, he would have to wait until the massive case was suitably prepared to go before the court. So instead of going home with his sisters after 3 months, Ibrahim would be in prison for a much longer period of time…
Then there was the treatment inside the prisons. Human rights group said that torture and other abuses were rampant inside Egyptian prisons. That assessment matched well with Ibrahim’s experience, starting with the customary welcome beating the guards referred to as “the party.”
“You have to run through these two very long rows of soldiers, one on the left and one on the right… every soldier has a different weapon they are going to beat you with,” Ibrahim said. “You start running and you have people holding on to you, trying to shield themselves using you and you’re getting beaten with metal chains, bars, electric wires, sticks, anything. It feels like the longest road I can ever tell you about.”…
After “the party,” there were still a number of abuses Ibrahim and the other prisoners had to deal with. Prisoners were often given rotten food, though Ibrahim was lucky enough to receive packages from the Irish embassy occasionally. But no one from Ireland could do anything about his sharing a cell with 30 others, sleeping in a space just over one foot wide.
As the months turned into years, the treatment got progressively worse. They would occasionally “[give] us a thorough ‘inspection,’ dumping out all our things in the middle of the cell and throwing food and water on it,” Ibrahim said. “They also made us stand under the sun all day sometimes,” no easy feat in the harsh desert heat…
Doing What We Can
All the while Ibrahim was in the prison, his family was doing everything they could to get him out. They worked hard to get as much of the attention from Ireland and the international community onto Ibrahim’s case as possible, in the hopes that international pressure would lead to his release.
By Any Means
Ibrahim was doing his best to secure his release as well. As the months and years passed by, he had no legal recourse — Ibrahim had yet to see a judge — so he had to resort to unconventional methods. Ibrahim staged a series of intermittent hunger strikes…
Pardon, With A Caveat
Nearly 4 years after he’d been arrested, the hunger strikes and pressure from the Irish government had some effect. In January of 2017, the Egyptian president told Irish politicians that he would pardon Ibrahim — once the trial was over. But for that to happen, the trial would have to start.
Moving Finish Line
The trial date had been pushed back again and again, being adjourned over 20 times. “The sad reality is my brother is dying in an Egyptian prison, facing a mass trial, which at this rate will take over 10 years,” said one of Ibrahim’s sisters. “Given Ibrahim’s current mental and physical state, we don’t believe he will be strong enough to survive that delay.”…
Just A Little Longer
But thankfully, It would only be a few more months before Ibrahim finally went to trial. The mass trial began in August of 2017 and by September 18th, Ibrahim was acquitted on all charges. He was back home in Ireland before the end of the year.
Rebuilding A Life
“I’m still not used to freedom for now, to get used to it is going to take a lot of time,” Ibrahim said. He now suffers from insomnia, flashbacks, and PTSD as a result of his incarceration. He went into prison at 17 and came out at 21, missing the usual milestones most Irish kids have along the way. Now, he wants to get back on track, hoping to go to college and eventually get married and start a family. “It’s going to be a lot harder for me, of course, but I have to do it.”