UK urged to do more to help ‘thousands’ of Egyptian political prisoners

Held for more than four years in the gulag of Egyptian military and civilian prisons, Ibrahim Halawa is one of the few to emerge with the courage to tell his story.

He has given Sky News harrowing insights into his ordeal and appealed to the British Government to think again about its support for the Egyptian government.

As many as 60,000 people are thought to have been rounded up and jailed by Egypt’s military government. Ibrahim was one of the first to be swept up by soldiers as they violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations against the military overthrow of the democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi.

More than 1,600 are thought to have been massacred on the streets of Cairo in 2013. Thousands were arrested.

More than four years on, Ibrahim Halawa recalled the moment he and others arrived at their first jail.

He said: “These wide doors open the minute you get out of the van and they’re counting numbers by sticks, these big bars, so they’re beating you the minute you enter.

“And then you just see two big long rows of soldiers, each person is holding a weapon – some sort of whip, some sort of gun – whatever they can get their hand on and they’re telling you to run, run, run like a chicken and you have to run.”

He was held for four years and two months in a total of nine jails. Cells were cramped, dirty and unhealthily infested with insects and lice. Up to 65 people had to share one toilet. And on a daily basis inmates were subject to torture or saw or heard it happening, from beatings to anal rape.

“There were people right in front of my eyes with blood coming out of them and chunks of meat coming out of them and those horrific images. They would grab a stick and stick it up you know from behind, people’s behinds,” he said.

“So all these images will stay until this day. Of course I’m still young so all these images have to stay with me, they’re not going to go anywhere. And no one is going to delete them from my head.”

Thousands are still incarcerated. Civilians guilty of only criticising their government or protesting against it. From all walks of life.

“I always like to call it a mini Egypt because you had farmers, you had doctors, you had lawyers, you had every sector of people in prison that were just calling for the same cause,” he said.

“And later on the more opposition that was happening in Egypt the more diversity you were getting in prison because he was just arresting everyone. And that is what a dictator is, a dictator gets to run a country by power and once it calls out in the land he hears no voice but his echo.”

This week, Egyptians vote in elections widely condemned as a farce. President Sisi is running almost unchallenged and has removed dissent and opposition wherever possible.

David Mepham from Human Rights Watch told Sky News the UK should do more to condemn the elections as a sham.

“The elections are not only unfair they are frankly farcical,” he said. “We’ve got an election where five or six candidates that wanted to stand and were basically squeezed out.

“The one guy that is standing against President Sisi was until a day before he announced his candidacy backing Sisi’s party. The conditions are frankly not there for a free and fair election to happen. There’s repression, the extent of human rights abuse, the emasculation of civil society, the locking up of journalists.”

Mr Halawa agrees.

“I wouldn’t call it an election,” he said. “President Abdel Fattah al Sisi is one dictator that doesn’t want to hear any opposition. They are sham elections and everyone knows the result. Of course he’s going to win it. He’s a dictator who came on a coup.”

The British Government has chosen to support the Sisi government, approving arms sales and inviting the president to London. As the human rights situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate, it is under increasing pressure to do more.

In a statement the Foreign Office told Sky News: “We are concerned about reports of torture and mistreatment in detention in Egypt and continue to raise human rights concerns regularly with the Egyptian authorities.

“The UK Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis in line with our robust UK export licensing requirements and our EU and international obligations.”

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