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Ola Qaradawi, facing new charges in Egypt, launches hunger strike

Daughter of prominent imam was ready to go home after court ordered her release, but that hope was short-lived
Ola Qaradawi and Hossam Khalaf have been detained for two years in Egypt (Twitter)

Egyptian prosecutors have levelled new charges against Ola al-Qaradawi, effectively prolonging her detention, just one day after a court granted her supervised release, her family said.

The daughter of Qatar-based imam Yousef al-Qaradawi was ready to go home this week after more than two years of solitary confinement, but the prosecution lodged new accusations against her on Thursday to keep her locked up.

"We felt like we're right there - 'She's going to come out in just a few days, it's just a matter of a few days and she'll be home' - so it was really hard for everyone to take the news," Qaradawi's daughter, Aayah Hosam, told Middle East Eye in a telephone interview.

Qaradawi was arrested with her husband Hosam Khalaf in 2017, shortly after a diplomatic feud broke out between Qatar on one side, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other.

Khalaf and Qaradawi were accused of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned in Egypt, but they were never presented with the evidence against them or given a chance to stand trial.

The couple's supporters insist that the accusations are politicised and linked to the diplomatic impasse between Cairo and Doha - not to any actual criminal offence.

'The White House has not intervened hard enough. I still know that if they want to resolve this, they can do it in just a few days'

- Aayah Hosam, Ola Qaradawi's daughter

Under Egyptian law, pre-trial detention is limited to a period of two years.

But after an Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered that Qaradawi be granted supervised release, Hosam said the authorities kept her in custody to give the prosecution a chance to challenge that decision.

While the family was optimistic when the Egyptian government did not submit an appeal, that joy was short-lived.

Prosecutors brought fresh charges against Qaradawi on Thursday, accusing the 58-year-old of communicating with, and facilitating support for a terrorist group while in jail.

She may now be held in pre-trial detention for two more years in relation to these new charges.

Hunger strike

Hosam ridiculed the new accusation, stressing that her mother did not have access to anyone while in jail.

"She's been in solitary confinement for the past two years; she's not even in contact with other prisoners," Hosam told MEE. 

"She's not in contact with her family or the lawyers. There is no way for her to have communication with anyone. We didn't even talk to her once in the two years."

Hosam added that she fears for her mother's life, especially after Qaradawi announced that she was launching a hunger strike in protest of the new charges against her.

"She reached the point where she is not able to take it anymore," Hosam told MEE.

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But the hunger strike may prove detrimental to Qaradawi's already frail health. Hosam said the family was planning to transfer Qaradawi to a medical facility immediately after her release. 

"We already know that they don't respond when someone gets sick," she added. 

Egypt has been accused of failing to provide adequate access to medical care to detainees in its prisons.

Former president Mohammed Morsi died in detention last month after years without adequate medical care.

Also, MEE reported last week that former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh has not been receiving treatment for heart attacks while in detention.

US failure

Meanwhile, Qaradawi's husband Khalaf has yet to appear before a court despite being held for more than two years in pre-trial detention.

A hearing in his case was postponed amid security measures imposed during the African Cup of Nations, which is being hosted by Egypt, the Qaradawi family said in a statement.

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Hosam, a US citizen, has led efforts to get American policymakers to lobby for the release of her parents, who were granted US residency before their arrest.

Late last year, 46 members of the US Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to push for the couple's release.

On Thursday, Hosam said the US government is not doing enough to free her parents.

"They haven't pushed hard enough. The White House has not intervened hard enough," she said.

"I still know that if they want to resolve this, they can do it in just a few days."