Read UTimes article on the Medium: https://medium.com/@UTimes2017/ut-alumni-still-detained-in-egypt-3008ea6dd0a9
Ola al-Qaradawi had already been held in solitary confinement for 150 days in an Egyptian prison. During her last detention renewal on Nov. 25, she could only watch helplessly behind a thick glass shield as the judge renewed for another 45 more. Without a moment to speak to the judge or her lawyer, she was whisked out of the courtroom.
The campaign for the release of UT alumni Ola al-Qaradawi and Hosam Khalaf from their detainment in Egypt ramps up due to the new 45-day detention renewal periods that leave family members and lawyers without contact to the couple. Aayah Khalaf, their daughter and leader of the Free Ola and Hosam movement, said her mother has spent every day in a 5-by-6-foot cell with now windows, or ventilation, inedible food and contaminated water.
“She’s a 55-year-old mother and grandmother,” Aayah said. “This is not something she can take.”
The Egyptian State Security detained the couple on June 30 without a warrant. They had been spending the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the home of Ola’s mother in the coastal city of Alexandria, where the family was moving furniture and walking the sandy beach with their grandchildren. The officers believed the house belonged to Ola’s grandfather, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whose assets have been frozen. Yusuf, a Muslim spiritual leader and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is wanted by the state for speaking out against current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“My parents applied for their green cards and they were getting ready to move here with my family,” Aayah said. “They were liquefying their assets, selling their stuff and they had nothing to do with the political scene at all — nothing.”
Yusuf’s extradition from Qatar, where he has lived for over 50 years, is part of Egypt’s demands to lift its boycott on Qatar imposed in early June. Yusuf has been banned from entering the US since 1999 and many other Western countries have followed suit, including France, Britain and Ireland. Regardless, Aayah said Ola and Hosam do not and have never supported the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood or extremist groups, a charge published by the state-run media, Aayah said.
“Egypt has this list of people they don’t like and asking Qatar to give over. My grandfather is one of them,” Aayah said. “We believe this is an aspect, but the bigger problem is the Qatar and Egypt conflict. They are kind of taking them as hostages.”
Originally, the couple’s detainment was renewed every 15 of the first 150 days and served as an opportunity for them to speak with their lawyer who could pass along their health conditions and messages to their family.
“We still don’t have any access to them, from us or the lawyer,” Aayah said. “We know she’s alive, but that’s about it.”
The detainment of Ola and Hosam al-Qaradawi has not followed any laws or processes under the Egyptian legal system, said Jared Genser, Ola and Hosam’s international human rights lawyer.
“In Egypt when you are charged with a crime you should be presented with an arrest warrant and charges are supposed to be listed,” Genser said. “You are supposed to be presented with an indictment which lists the evidence and basis of the arrest and alleged crimes. None of this has happened. They are unjustified in the detention, and what is crystal clear is that Egypt is not following its own laws or international laws in how they are treating Ola and Hosam.”
Amnesty International and the UT chapter, Texas Amnesty International, are stepping up to help the alumni through calls to urgent action from their members who sign petitions or write letters, getting in touch with the Egyptian embassy in Washington, D.C. and planning Write for Rights events, where members send letters to Egyptian officials.
“When thousands of letters from Americans go to the Egyptian embassy or Egyptian officials in Cairo, it gets noticed,” said Geoffrey Mock, chair of the Egypt Country Specialists for Amnesty International USA. “We have that leverage of bringing a case into light and the leverage of shaming governments. They do not want to be embarrassed by their actions.”
The UT chapter of Amnesty International has most recently launched a change.org petition and has received over 1,900 signatures in a month. Each signing sends an e-mail to UT President Gregory Fenves, Egyptian Embassy Ambassador Yasser Reda and Egyptian Minister Magdy Abd el-Ghaffar with a letter outlining the human rights abuses.
“We’re still really trying to get Fenves to make a statement about the case,” said Alisa Hernández, Texas Amnesty International president. “We haven’t heard anything from him all semester long. The very least he could do would be to release a statement saying that he has read about their case and acknowledging the conditions that they are in and say they need medical attention.”
Along with lodging complaints to the UN and reaching out to local representatives in Washington state, Aayah attended a congressional hearing that brought up her parents’ case.
“I think we will have to have a lot of pressure and a lot of noise,” Aayah said. “We will have to get higher engagements with people from the state department stepping in or the white house stepping in and saying something. Having all these people call and show concern and maybe having the state department or white house intervene. All of it together, they can’t brush it off.”
The 45-day renewal periods mark the beginning of a new chapter for the campaign’s efforts, and Aayah and her team will continue to try and raise awareness for her parents.
“It’s been really hard since the last renewal,” Aayah said. “I was just hoping and praying that we would not get into the 45 days. It felt like too much for me. I was not ready for that moment to come.”