Ola Qaradawi on hunger strike after being detained because of her father

Ola Qaradawi, daughter of eminent Islamic scholar Yousuf Al-Qaradawi, has resumed a hunger strike protesting her pretrial detention for over four years. Ola, 60, who suffers health problems, hoped this could lead the Egyptian authorities to stop its crackdown on her just because she is the daughter of Yousuf Al-Qaradawi, who rejected the 3 July military coup and called upon the people to protest against it.

The story began in June 2017, when Ola and her husband Hossam Khalaf were spending their holiday on Egypt’s Northern Coast on the Mediterranean. The couple were surprised all of sudden when a police force arrived and arrested them then transported them to the Supreme State Security Prosecution.

The prosecution accused Ola, who has Qatari nationality as well as Egyptian and works for Doha’s embassy in Cairo, and Khalaf, who is the secretary general of Al-Wasat Party, of inciting to protest and violence, belonging to an illegal group, and inciting public opinion against the state’s institutions. They were put on remand. Ola and Khalaf were subjected to difficult detention conditions. They were put in solitary confinement, denied of sunlight, a bed, or even a pillow. They were denied of visits or even meeting their lawyers over the past four years.

In July 2019, Ola was ordered to be released as she finished the maximum remand period without trial, so Cairo’s Criminal Court ordered parole for her, but just two hours after the decision the prosecution ordered Ola to be detained on another case on charges of joining a terrorist group and financing it in order to keep her in prison.

Human rights organisations condemned the extension of Ola’s detention, and Human Rights Watch asserted that the “renewal of Ola’s causeless detention just because she is the daughter of Yousuf Qaradawi” shows that the Egyptian authorities are using the judiciary “as a tool for coercion.” Amnesty International said, “Instead of release according to the court’s decision after two years of abusive detention, the Egyptian authorities kept Ola Qaradawi in prison on baseless charges.”

Early in 2021, with the restoration of the Egyptian-Qatari relationship after over three years of rupture, hopes that Ola and her husband would be released were restored as Ola carries the Qatari nationality and works for Doha’s embassy in Cairo, but hopes have disappeared with the wind. In July 2021, Ola finished another two years of pretrial detention in the second case, which means that she must be released according to law, but she has not been. Hence, Ola decided to go on a hunger strike. Over the past two weeks, no news has emerged about her health status as she is not allowed to communicate with her family or lawyers.

The detention of relatives is a systematic method used by the Egyptian regime to avenge opponents who are based abroad. Last February, National Security arrested six relatives of the American-Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed Soltan, after he filed a lawsuit against Egypt’s ex-PM Hazem Al-Bebalwi accusing him of targeting Soltan and overseeing his torture because of Soltan’s role in updating the international media about the situation after the 2013 military coup.

Earlier, in October 2019, security forces arrested doctor Amr Abu Khalil, a psychiatrist, after his brother, Haitham Abu Khalil, who is a human rights defender based in Istanbul, criticised Colonel Mahmoud Al-Sisi, son of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Amr spent a year in prison before passing away after being denied medical care.

HRW asserted, “the Egyptian authorities launched a crackdown against dozens of relatives of opponents, who live abroad to avenge them.” The organisation recorded 28 cases of targeting relatives of journalists, media figures and human rights activists living abroad after they criticised the Egyptian regime.