Saturday 18 August 2018

'We all screamed at Ibrahim's not-guilty verdict,' say sisters

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
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

Robin Schiller

The family of Ibrahim Halawa have expressed their excitement and relief after he was acquitted by an anti-terrorism court in Egypt.

The 21-year-old has been locked up in a Cairo jail since August 2013 after being arrested by the country's security forces at a protest against the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi.

The trial process had been beset by more than 30 adjournments. Yesterday, 1,497 days after his arrest, the court just outside Cairo ruled he was innocent.

Speaking at the family's Dublin home following the verdict, Mr Halawa's sisters said they screamed when they heard the verdict read out.

Fatima, Omaima and Somaia Halawa were arrested along with their brother and were also acquitted yesterday. They, as well as their sister Khadija, revealed how they feared Ibrahim could be sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

"It's exciting, we weren't expecting the trial to proceed today and to hear this is great, it's amazing news. We're just relieved it has finally come to an end," Omaima told the Irish Independent. "We watched it on the news online, as we were hearing the names. The first people were sentenced to life in prison, then 10 years, then five years; we thought maybe Ibrahim's name will be among those being sentenced to five years."

Somaia said: "We weren't expecting to hear 'Ibrahim Halawa is innocent' so we just screamed."

The news came less than 24 hours before their mother Amina Mostafa was due to undergo surgery at Tallaght Hospital.

"We were asking for good news before she goes to hospital," they said.

The family also said that they haven't yet spoken to Mr Halawa since the verdict, and are hopeful that his release could be as soon as in three days.

"We won't have a chance [to speak to him] until he's out, the process takes a couple of days by the time he's admitted out of prison and goes to a police station, and from there he is released," Fatima said.

"We're excited because he gets to live a normal life himself. He can eat from a plate with a normal spoon, have a proper bathroom, drink clean water; all of these things.

"For the last four years, he's been deprived of his basic human necessities so for him to come back... it's going to be great.

"Being in prison is the hardest thing. Four years of his life, to be proven innocent... it's going to be hard, and even though Ibrahim is out, the greatest happiness is that everyone who is with him will be released."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "wholeheartedly" welcomed the verdict, following what he described as "an extraordinarily protracted" case.

"Now that Ibrahim has been cleared of all charges, I expect he will be released as soon as possible and can return home to his family. The Government will facilitate his return home at the earliest opportunity," the Taoiseach said.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Irish embassy in Cairo will continue to assist Mr Halawa and his family.

Mr Halawa had been charged over Muslim Brotherhood protests which took place in Cairo in August 2013, when he was aged just 17. The student and son of a prominent Muslim cleric, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, was jailed after being detained in a mosque near Ramses Square in Cairo.

Irish Independent

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