UCD student turned activist, Somaia Halawa was imprisoned in Egypt for three months in 2013 for peacefully protesting.. She tells us about this experience, and how it feels to be free when her brother, Amnesty prisoner of conscience, Ibrahim Halawa, is still behind bars.
How has your life changed since Ibrahim was detained?
Sometimes I feel like I am in a coma, that I am not fully awake.It is hard for our entire family. You have to fake your smile and fake that you are OK. Our brother is not here. It is not OK. You cannot pause life until he comes back, it has to continue – and it does, but in a fake way.
Tell us about your time in prison alongside your sisters?
I felt like I was dying a hundred times. The minute we arrived, we were told we were going to die in this place. We were searched in an inhumane way. My sister said it was like losing her virginity. We were left in a small room with a convicted killer and we were her servants. We did not eat for seven days when we arrived as we were so scared. We were mentally destroyed.
Your brother has been named an Amnesty prisoner ofconscience. What does this mean to you?
When we started campaigning, we had no voice. People didn’t know our story and they don’t know Ibrahim. Every time we approach someone now and say that Ibrahim is supportedby Amnesty International, it gives them confidence and they listen. Whenever anyone talks to me, the first thing they ask is“what organisations are behind you?”. With Amnesty behind us, I feel so much stronger.
How would you describe Ibrahim?
Even though he is 10 years younger than me, there are times when I feel as though he is 10 years older than me. Ibrahim can be this very young funny boy, but also a serious man.He can be a brother, a friend and a father the same time. Australian journalist, Peter Greste, who shared a cell with Ibrahim, described him very well. He called him a character!
What are your hopes for Ibrahim’s future?
Being in prison for two years does not just mean that it is just those two years that are taken away from you. A few weeks ago, I read about a normal guy who was sent to prison for three years, found not guilty and released. But he did not feel supported and then took his own life. For him it was not freedom, it was the start of ending his life. I know that this time in prison will have an effect on my brother. I hope that Ibrahim is strong.