Why is Ibrahim Halawa spending his 20th birthday in an Egyptian prison?

The Irish teenager is facing a death sentence for protesting in 2013

Ibrahim Halawa, egypt, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Mohamed Morsi

Ibrahim Halawa

The family of Ibrahim Halawa has stepped up efforts to have the Irish teenager freed from prison in Egypt ahead of his birthday in a fortnight.
 
Halawa is currently facing a death sentence for allegedly taking part in an anti-government protest in Cairo in August 2013.
 
The latest efforts to secure his release will see people encouraged to send a "happy birthday" postcard to the Department of Foreign Affairs who will in turn attempt to pass on the message of support to the Irish teen.
 
Ibrahim, who was just 17 years old when he was arrested, is set to turn 20 on December 13.
 
Speaking about the latest efforts, his sister Somaia said: "We want Ibrahim to know that people haven't forgotten about him or his case on his birthday.
 
"We felt that the best way of getting this message to him was by sending cards through the Department of Foreign Affairs who will pass the message on to the Irish embassy in Cairo.
 
"The happy birthday message is simple and is written in English and Arabic as Ibrahim is not allowed to receive English material in prison."
 
Halawa is currently on hunger strike for the past 40 days after his trial was delayed for the ninth time in October.
 
Egyptian authorities have used a wide range of reasons for delaying the mass trial of Ibrahim and 419 other defendants who remain in Egypt's notorious Wadi Al Natrun prison.
 
His family claim that he has fainted on four occasions in recent weeks as his condition worsens following more than 800 days in prison and are now calling on government officials to improve efforts to have the youngster freed.
 
She added: "While I acknowledge the efforts of the government, I feel that more could be done to free Ibrahim.
 
"For instance there is the law 140 which was used to free Peter Greste earlier this year which could also be used to free Ibrahim and there is also law 142 which says Ibrahim should be freed because he has been held for two years without being convicted.
 
"We call on the Irish government to use these laws to secure Ibrahim's release from prison."
 
Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs claim that Halawa must first be convicted before they can appeal for a Presidential pardon from the country's controversial leader Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
 
Australian journalist Peter Greste and US citizen Mohamed Soltan were released following appeals from their respective governments under the country's Law 140 earlier this year.
 
The decree allows for foreign citizens to be sent home before a final verdict is reached in their trial if their deportation is in the "higher interest" of the Egyptian state.
 
Irish government officials submitted a request for Ibrahim's release under Law 140 after Greste was released in February but Egyptian officials have so far failed to respond to the request.
 
Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan visited Halawa in prison earlier this year, a right which is often denied to the families of prisoners including the Halawa clan.
 
Boylan reported that the 19-year-old was visibly upset and recounted how he wakes every morning to the sounds of tortured prisoners screams and that he himself has been beaten and tortured by the authorities there.
 
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi stands accused of widespread human rights abuses since he first rose to power in a coup d'etat against the country's first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi in June 2013.
 
International human rights groups regularly report instances of systematic torture inside Egypt's prisons where electrocution, beatings and widespread abuse are thought to be commonplace.
 
Rights groups have long accused the regime of carrying out forced disappearances and extra judicial kidnappings against those who oppose the current leadership.
 
Halawa is currently standing trial alongside 419 defendants accused of taking part in opposition protests against the Egyptian regime. 
 
He was originallly arrested alongside his sisters, Fatima, Somaia and Omaima when the Egyptian military stormed a mosque where they were taking refuge in Cairo's Al-Fath mosque during clashes between supporters of the ousted President Morsi and the security forces.
 
The Halawa sisters were released and returned to Ireland but for now their brother faces spending his birthday in an Egyptian prison cell.
 
By Conor Shiels