Family criticise Eamon Gilmore's failure to aid jailed Irish teen Ibrahim Halawa
Published 04/05/2014 | 02:30
THE family of a teenager locked up in Egypt for nine months without charge have broken their silence to hit out at the Government and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore's failure to come to the Irish citizen's aid amid growing fears for his safety.
Mr Gilmore has still not personally met Ibrahim Halawa's father – Ireland's most senior Islamic cleric – or other family members since the 18-year-old was arrested in Cairo last August. Since then tensions have increased, following mass sentencing to death of hundreds of inmates in Egypt's prisons.
Ibrahim's sister Somaia told the Sunday Independent this weekend: "I'm sure if this was the minister or the President's son it would be dealt with in a different way.
"We are really worried. There is nothing we can do apart from put more pressure on the Government and the EU. We feel that they need to try many times in different ways, because that's just the way it's going to work now in Egypt at the moment. Maybe with a different country – a country that respects humans – their current approach could work, but it doesn't make sense in this case."
Ibrahim, the son of the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, was arrested last August along with his three older sisters Omaima, 21, Fatima, 23, and Somaia, 28, following a day of protest held in Cairo.
Sheikh Halawa is now calling on the Irish Government and the EU to push the Egyptian authorities harder in order to secure his son's release.
"We have met with the Government a lot of times," he told the Sunday Independent.
"We met with the Minister for Justice before and people in the Department of Foreign Affairs, but I wish they could do something to push the matter now. The time is not good for us. I hope they can do something more and more immediate."
Ibrahim, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, was born and raised in Dublin.
The teenager was taken into custody after taking refuge with his sisters at the al-Fateh Mosque in the Egyptian capital during protests against the ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi.
However, while Ibrahim's three sisters were released following a three-month detention period last November, Ibrahim remains in an adult prison near Cairo, despite still qualifying as a minor under Egyptian law.
Last week 683 men were sentenced to death in Egypt during the country's latest mass trial; last month 529 men were handed down the same sentence.
"We would like to receive more support," Somaia said. "We are waiting for his hearing to be scheduled. They said it might be in around two or three weeks, and some people think it might be after the election. We are so scared because we are hearing about all of these people being sentenced to death."
The Halawas are deeply concerned about Ibrahim's state of mind.
"At the moment, no he is not OK," Somaia said. "He is hearing about these people getting death sentences and that is really worrying him. Nine months in prison is a lot. We were affected when we came out after three months, so you can imagine what it's like to be in there for nine months for no reason."
While the Halawas are keen to stress that they are grateful for the Irish authorities' help with the matter and the assistance they provided in securing his sisters' release, they have become increasingly frustrated with the speed at which Ibrahim's case is being dealt with.
"We are asking them to try other ways, so if one way is not working to please try in a different way," Somaia said.
"We met with representatives of the Minister for Foreign Affairs last week to express again our hope that more pressure could be put on the Government, because we might only have two or three weeks and that is not good. Once the hearing is scheduled and Ibrahim is put in a court, it is harder then to deal with the situation. Maybe a phone call could help or a letter to the UN," Somaia added. "They have tried many times to meet with the prosecutor, but that didn't work and then nothing else happens."
According to Somaia, the Irish authorities have been waiting for two months for a requested phone call from the Egyptian Minister for Justice regarding Ibrahim's case.
"I have been to prison. I know how it feels. A day is a long time," Somaia said. "So two months waiting for a phone call is not good. We are running out of time."
The Halawas are very critical of the response from Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, who they have asked on numerous occasions to highlight Ibrahim's case. "Catherine Ashton when she went to Cairo... she didn't speak about my son Ibrahim," Sheikh Halawa said.
"My son is European, he was born in Ireland."
Somaia said, "He is an EU citizen and he has rights. Where are his rights? We're really disappointed with the EU now. Nine months is too much. It's taking too long. Are we going to wait until my brother is in the line of danger before they do anything?"
The Halawas have now launched an online petition to urge the Irish and Egyptian authorities to secure Ibrahim's immediate release.
According to a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, while the Tanaiste has not personally met with the Halawa family, officials from his department have met with them on seven occasions. The embassy in Cairo has also visited Ibrahim in prison 16 times. The spokesperson also said Minister Gilmore had spoken with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, on two occasions in relation to this matter.
In response to a Parliamentary question raised in the Dail on February 27, Mr Gilmore said that Ibrahim's case "is still before the judicial system in Egypt and we are precluded from getting involved in the judicial process".