I was arrested in Cairo when I was 17. I turned 18 in an Egyptian prison. I turned 21 there, too. While my friends graduated from university in Dublin, I waited, wondering if I would spend the rest of my life in a dank cell.
I traveled to Egypt for a family holiday in 2013, at a time when pro-democracy protests were sweeping the country following the deposal of President Mohammed Morsi. I wasn’t a particularly political person—I’m still not—but I was curious about what was happening in the country, so my sisters and I attended one of the protests taking place in Cairo. I did not know then that simply exercising my freedom of assembly would mean four years of imprisonment—or that it would bring me to the brink of a death sentence.
I was eventually acquitted of all charges in September 2017, and I am home with family in Dublin today, but I spent more than four years imprisoned in Egypt. I was falsely accused of violence, all for the “crime” of attending a protest. I endured years of torture and mistreatment. I was subjected to a mass trial of nearly 500 people, in which I was charged with a non-existent offence that occurred when I was still a minor.
Watch: Ibrahim Halawa thanks his supporters
Up until the day of my acquittal, there was a distinct possibility that I would be sentenced to death, even though children are never supposed to be subjected to the death penalty. Many other minors in Egypt have had the same experience as me, and many of them are still detained in adult prisons. Some of them have even been sentenced to death. Since I now—finally—have my freedom, I feel it is incumbent upon me to speak out on behalf of juveniles in Egypt who have been silenced and cannot speak for themselves.
I was falsely accused of violence, all for the “crime” of attending a protest. I endured years of torture and mistreatment.
I know this to be true from firsthand experience: there is no rule of law in Egypt today. Entirely innocent minors like me are regularly swept into the criminal justice system and kept there for years on end, based on zero evidence whatsoever. Children are subjected to Kafkaesque mass trials that bear no resemblance to legitimate judicial proceedings. Juveniles are not protected from the death penalty; to the contrary, those under 18 are absolutely among the thousands that Egyptian courts have sentenced to death in recent years.
The years that were stolen from me are the direct result of a despotic government’s quest to crush even the hint of dissent everywhere it appears
The years that were stolen from me are the direct result of a despotic government’s quest to crush even the hint of dissent everywhere it appears—and to violate human rights law unashamedly in the process. What happened to me, and what is happening to many other people in Egypt—adults and minors alike—is no accident.
The international community must take heed of how dire the human rights situation in Egypt really is. I know people are aware that Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi is a despot, but ongoing cooperation between the EU, European governments and the Egyptian judiciary indicates that Europe does not truly understand the atrocities that Egypt’s government is carrying out; either that, or the EU is not bothered by partnering with disreputable human
Either way, it is time for a change.
Either way, it is time for a change. And this should serve as a wakeup call to the world. Thousands are suffering under the yoke of oppression in Egypt, and no group of people is more emblematic of this suffering than children facing death sentences. I implore all those reading to do all they can to ensure that no other child in Egypt has to go through what I went through, and to pressure the Egyptian government to protect children from the death penalty.
Read more from our investigation into Egypt’s crackdown on fundamental freedoms, the rise of mass trials and the death penalty:
Article 122 – the loophole that allows death sentences for children
Mass trials and the death penalty in Egypt
Egypt’s crackdown on dissent – and the two laws underpinning it