Ola Al-Qaradawi has been in solitary confinement in Egypt’s Qanatir prison for almost a year now, after being arrested at her summer house on the north coast of Egypt along with her husband Hosam Khalaf last summer and accused of joining an illegal organisation.
Ola, who is not politically active, is only allowed out of her cell for one hour a day to use the toilet and stretch her legs and during this short period of time another inmate on her wing abuses her, her lawyer said. Neither Al-Qaradawi nor her husband have been charged formally.
This week Ola decided she couldn’t take it anymore and told her lawyer she was going on hunger strike in a bid to push the Egyptian authorities to release her:
I will go on a hunger strike until I am freed, the treatment is better, I get out of solitary and that lady is moved out. I am grateful for everyone who is fighting for me but I can’t take it anymore.
Ola’s lawyer has tried to discourage her from undertaking the strike due to the fact that she is already weak and thin and has received no medical care inside the prison. “She insisted,” Ola’s daughter Aayah Khalaf told MEMO. “Of course, it’s life threatening We won’t even know anything about her for the next 45 days.”
Khalaf says the lawyer only sees Ola when there’s a renewal hearing and even then they are rarely allowed to speak. Monday was the first time in eight months he got to talk to her and this was only for two minutes.
Khalaf has previously said that her mother has been targeted by Egyptian authorities because her father is the influential Islamic scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Al-Qaradawi lives in exile in Qatar after being cast as an opponent of the current Egyptian regime. He once fronted a popular and influential TV show and was outspoken against the military coup and in favour of the Arab Spring.
Ola and Hosam have become part of the geopolitical conflict between Qatar and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE who have demanded Al-Qaradawi is extradited back to Egypt in return for the land, sea and air blockade on Qatar being lifted.
As an apolitical grandmother whose only offence is to be the daughter of a famous scholar, Ola’s incarceration is unprecedented. It’s also the longest amount of time a female has spent in Egypt in solitary confinement.
Earlier in June the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention warned that Ola and Hosam’s detention is a “flagrant violation of international law” and that their ordeals “amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Khalaf hopes that this ruling, coupled with the strike, will exert enough pressure on Egypt to release her mother: “I am hopeful that the Egyptian government would realise that this is very dangerous for my mother for them to not release her and that there is no base anyway for their detention,” she says.
“I hope this is what it takes because I fear for my mother’s health.”