'It was breathtaking to see green, lol': Irish teenager writes from an Egyptian jail

'There are many ways I have been mistreated'

Adam Withnall
Thursday 02 June 2016 14:00 BST
Nosayba (left) and Somaia Halawa, sisters of Ibrahim Halawa, on Grafton Street in Dublin's city centre, where family members and supporters held an awareness day
Nosayba (left) and Somaia Halawa, sisters of Ibrahim Halawa, on Grafton Street in Dublin's city centre, where family members and supporters held an awareness day (PA)

Ibrahim Halawa is an Irish student who, at the age of 17, was arrested while on holiday to Cairo and charged with causing deaths and criminal damage.

He had attended a protest with his three older sisters, and while they were released, he has been in jail for three years and faces a death sentence by the end of the month.

Via the human rights charity Reprieve, which has campaigned ceaselessly on Mr Halawa's behalf, The Independent has received a letter written from jail by the Dubliner.

Asked to describe his daily life in the jail, the treatment he has seen and received, and what he feels about the legal case brought against him, this is what he said:

An average day: I wake up EVERY MORNING to the screams of prisoners being tortured and the echo of the bar landing on their bodies. Wait your turn for the ground toilets. There are no seats [on the toilets] so whether you are old, sick, or tired, you squat. We sleep on the ground on folded bed covers in a cell with a big, black, heavy safe door. The room is 3.5 m x 5.5 m, with very old paint and 3 windows with bars, metal, and wire. The windows are very high, near the ceiling, so you can’t see out of them. I call them “double glazed” windows because they are packed so hard with metal you get no air but you also cannot close them. During sandstorms, you breathe dust. In the winter it’s freezing and in the summer you die. The cell can have as many as 40 people in it, as it was before, but now we are 12.

I wake up and wait my turn and wash my face. Currently I’m only eating fruit so I’m very weak and I don’t move much. But before it was pushups! Then recess. You don’t ever see green. During recess, we go from a small cell to a longer cell, and this cell has metal bars and wires on top, not cement. It’s 3m x 15m and lasts 2 hours (though this differs in different prisons). Then we go back inside and get prison food that finds itself nowhere but the bin. For so long i haven’t seen green. The beans here come uncooked so I planted some of them in tissue. It was breathtaking to see green, lol. We read, write, and sing. I love to sing. I make them laugh. I’m known in prison to take anyone out of a bad, depressed mood. I share memories of Ireland, we share our funny love stories, we daydream. We look at family photos over and over and over again. That is some of a normal day. The not normal days are for another time.


There are many ways I have been mistreated: cursing, beatings, solitary confinement, ‘the tank’, convicts and the sweeper, head shaving, hunger strike, stripped, [beaten with] the back of an AK47, guns pointed at my chest, sleeping on the ground, robbery, and many more. As I go along I will explain each one. Cursing is the least [serious] and [the most] normal. They curse your father and mother. If you object it turns into a beating. Beating is a general title. I have been beaten with a plastic plumbing bar, slapped, punched, kicked, and dragged. You can have all of that happen to you for just one reason: speaking while an officer is speaking.

Solitary confinement is something I have been to a few times. When a complaint comes and you refuse to sign [saying] that you are good and healthy when you are really dying, solitary is your treatment. If they want to ban you from visiting and they can’t, they throw you in solitary for a week and fake a paper saying you are out of control (in case the prosecutor calls). If I don’t lie to the Embassy and tell them I’m fine, and the officer is in a bad mood you are put in solitary.

Solitary is 1x2 meters, and they put up to five [people in there] because there are only six cells in the whole prison. ‘The tank’ is a 3.5m x 5.5m cell, painted pitch black. There is no light. The toilet is blocked by cement and there is no water. You are forced to urinate on the ground beside where you sleep. There could be up to ten [people] with you in there. The longest a person was in there was a guy with me who was in there three months. He was a convicted criminal.

In the sweeper, you are made to lay on your stomach with a stick in the center of your back. Your arms and legs are dragged back and tied to the stick and they make a convict move the stick up and down.

Shaving the head is more of a mental treatment. They shave your head but leave patches of hair so you feel mentally distressed. They also strip you naked and leave you for everyone to look at you.

They torture another prisoner and they make you watch. They bury him in garbage and he isn’t allowed to move. Crucify men. They hold a man’s arm against the curb and you hear it break when they kick it. A man is tied to a tree with honey all over him for insects to gather on him. A man is hung from a basketball hoop by his handcuffs and beaten while hanging in the air. And a lot more.


I cannot speak much about the trial as it is held for sentencing and that could affect me. But it is not good whatsoever. Actually I’ll take my chances. We get up early, by force, at 6 am. We are taken to a certain place in the prison. This is the waiting cell, even though the court is only 5 minutes away. This was the reason they brought us to Wadi al-Natroun. The judge comes from about 12 pm to 1 pm and court ends about 3 pm. Going to the trial we are handcuffed in groups of four. Only 13 of us from this case are in Wadi al-Natroun prison, but the rest of the defendants are in the prison next door. We are left waiting for hours. The court then has guards that search us. We are not allowed pens.

From about 10 meters you can feel the heat of 494 people. It’s so loud, extremely packed. The judge comes in and we can’t see. It’s glass and wire which is against the law. There is barely any noise from the judge, and we go on shouting for one hour for the noise [i.e. for the volume to be raised], but the judge has a button that controls what we hear. You can never take your right [sic]. You can’t speak to the judge. He only spoke to one brotherhood leader. If every lawyer wants to speak about his defendant we will never finish the trial. It’s not up to the judge, it is up to Homeland Security to postpone or release or sentence. If you decide to not go to court, you’ll be beaten and brought by force.


Being accused was a shocker. I was accused, I denied it, and three years later I’m still here. I was like, “Me? All that?” But I laughed because I thought it was funny. It proved how corrupt the system is. A police officer in trial being asked about who were the [perpetrators] pointed to us. The judged asked him how many protesters were there and he said a few thousand. The judge then asked where are they? The cop said, “I opened a safe passage and those were the people left who didn’t want to leave.” The lawyer then asked him, “So, the criminals could have escaped?” He answered yes. The lawyer then told the judge that the police officer has corrupted the case so we should be released. This was a year ago.

The Egyptian government said I was videotaped with a gun, yet there is nothing to prove this. The Egyptian government told Ireland I was in Tora while I was taken to the desert. The Egyptian government has given many false stories about Regeni’s death in less than 3 months.

I spoke freely, protested peacefully, and was arrested violently. I was shot with a shotgun and with tear gas. I’m not pro-Morsi. I’m pro-democracy.

If I’m convicted, I won’t be the first who has taken this road and been convicted. Even the great hero Nelson Mandela was convicted.


The Egyptian government said they have a fair judicial system yet they sentenced a 4-year-old to 25 years for a crime he committed in the womb. They said my trial will be fair yet it was held without my lawyer ever getting a chance to speak or see any evidence. They said the Law 140 appeal only applies to convicted prisoners. Yet in front of my eyes, Peter Greste left while wearing white. They said I’m not sick, yet I’m in very bad health.

I have taken off my shirt in front of the Embassy staff to show the marks on my back. If they covered up 50,000 political prisoners being mistreated, can they not cover up me being mistreated?

They can take words and file it as evidence, but otherwise I’m innocent.


Physically I feel 100 years old, with constant pain. Mentally I’m happy but very down.

I never imagined I would go to prison being innocent. I never thought it was possible, even in third world countries. It feels devastating. I could never see my family again. I could never have kids and see them grow up.

While being arrested, they said, “We only need you for five minutes.” It’s been three years. I thought I’d be home the same day.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in