Saturday 18 August 2018

'He cannot go back to a normal life... he needs to turn this into something positive' - former cellmate of Ibrahim Halawa

Government doing their best to secure the release of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa
Government doing their best to secure the release of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa
Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted of all charges
Sisters of Ibrahim Halawa, from left, Fatima, Omaima and Somaia, celebrate the news their brother had been acquitted, at the family home in Firhouse, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Sasha Brady

A former cellmate of Ibrahim Halawa has said there will be "no such thing as a normal life" for the Irish citizen when he returns home.

The 21-year-old was acquitted of all charges at an Egyptian court on Monday after spending four years in a Cairo jail.

He was arrested along with hundreds of other individuals in 2013 during peaceful protests against the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi.

Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste – who previously shared a prison cell with Ibrahim – said he was "over the moon" when he heard that Mr Halawa had been acquited.

"I woke up this morning to a flurry of tweets... it was absolutely extraordinary news," he told Newstalk Breakfast.

"It's been far too long. It really made my day."

Australian journalist Peter Greste speaks during an interview in Larnaca, Cyprus
Australian journalist Peter Greste speaks during an interview in Larnaca, Cyprus

He added: "I was surprised, we've seen so many setbacks... and I have to admit that I was also concerned that he would follow the same fate as us."

The award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent spent 400 days in an Egyptian cell. He was arrested, along with two colleagues, in 2013. They were convicted of spreading false news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, a charge that Mr Greste said made him "sick to my stomach".

He was returned to Australia upon the agreement that authorities there complete the judicial process instead of standing in a retrial in Egypt.

The Australian courts found that there was no evidence to charge Mr Greste with any crime and he was released.

Mr Greste said he was worried that the Egyptian authorities would "perhaps somehow try to justify the fact that [Mr Halawa] had spent such a long time in prison" and convict him.

"I never saw anything to suggest that he was guilty of anything. I was backing him all the way.

Sisters of Ibrahim Halawa celebrating the news of his acquittal on charges relating to mass protests in Cairo four years ago. l-r; Somaia, Fatima, Khadiza and Somaia. Ballycullen, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Sisters of Ibrahim Halawa celebrating the news of his acquittal on charges relating to mass protests in Cairo four years ago. l-r; Somaia, Fatima, Khadiza and Somaia. Ballycullen, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn

"He was a young idealistic young man. He was demonstrating for what he believed in. He was behaving within the law."

Mr Greste said there should be no question or concerns about Mr Halawa's alleged links with the Muslim Brotherhood as he defended his innocence.

“I think frankly it is quite a shameful indictment on people that are asking the questions themselves that they can’t acknowledge that in a functioning democracy people are allowed to express their views and that’s what Ibrahim was doing – nothing more, nothing less,” he said.

“You can agree or disagree with those views but he wasn’t guilty of terrorism, he had no particular association with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Halawa's release from prison could take between three and five days and his travel status also needs to be addressed before he is free to return home.

Mr Greste said the challenge facing Mr Halawa now is readjusting to life after prison.

"It's going to be extraordinary difficult," he said. "There's always going to be a desire to get back to normal but there will be no such thing as a normal life any longer.

"What he needs to recognise is that time wasn't wasted. There was a point to all this and he needs to recognise that and turn the experience he went through into something positive, something beneficial."

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