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Mary Fitzgerald: Despite a lack of any evidence against him, Ibrahim Halawa is dying in an Egyptian prison


Dubliner Ibrahim Halawa has been in jail in Egypt awaiting a mass trial since August 2013, when he was aged just 17

Dubliner Ibrahim Halawa has been in jail in Egypt awaiting a mass trial since August 2013, when he was aged just 17

Dubliner Ibrahim Halawa has been in jail in Egypt awaiting a mass trial since August 2013, when he was aged just 17

Almost four years since he and his sisters were arrested during a siege of a Cairo mosque, Ibrahim Halawa sits in an Egyptian prison cell grimly counting the days of his incarceration.

This week, Dublin-born Halawa, who was just 17 when he was seized by Egyptian security forces, learned that his trial had been adjourned for the 20th time since 2013. His family in Ireland are now calling on the Government to launch legal proceedings against the Egyptian state at the International Court of Justice.

Mr Halawa is on trial along with almost 500 others for their alleged role in violence during the protests that took place in the Ramses Square area of the Egyptian capital in mid-August 2013. At least 97 people died in the demonstrations, most as a result of what Amnesty International called the "reckless use of force by the security forces".

Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Mr Halawa's father and the imam at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Clonskeagh, Dublin, says he told his children to take shelter in a nearby mosque after clashes broke out during the mass protest against the army's overthrow of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's oldest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood was later designated a terrorist organisation by the post-Morsi authorities.

The Halawas attended the Ramses Square protest and other earlier rallies against the military coup while visiting relatives in Egypt. They were among scores of people, including several journalists, who were captured and taken to Cairo's infamous Tora prison after security forces stormed the mosque near Ramses Square.

The three Halawa sisters were released some months later but Mr Halawa faced terrorism-related charges. His case was taken up by Amnesty which considers him a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly.

Back in 2013, Irish officials, including then foreign minister Eamon Gilmore, were confident the case would be resolved soon. Almost four years on, it is clear they didn't reckon with the nature of the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian army general turned president.

Egypt today is more repressive than it was under Hosni Mubarak, the dictator forced to step down following mass protests in early 2011.

The military coup of 2013 ushered in a more paranoid Egypt, one in which thousands have been detained, many for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Accusations of links to the Muslim Brotherhood - often spurious - have driven many of the round-ups.

In this context, Mr Halawa's case may have been affected by the fact his father has been the secretary of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), a group of scholars that formulates religious opinions on practical matters relating to Muslims living in Europe. The ECFR is an offshoot of the Brussels-based Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), an umbrella group of various affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.

While the Halawa family have long feared Mr Halawa would face the death penalty if he was found guilty, there was some hope in January when Mr Sisi told a delegation of Irish politicians a pardon could be considered once his trial is over. The question is when that might be.

Mr Halawa has been on hunger strike and, according to his lawyer, has become so weak that he is now in a wheelchair.

After the news of yet another postponement of his trial on Wednesday, the family were despondent.

"The sad reality is my brother is dying in an Egyptian prison, facing a mass trial, which at this rate will take over 10 years," his sister Somaia said.

"Given Ibrahim's current mental and physical state, we don't believe he will be strong enough to survive that delay…The flawed trial process and conditions to which Ibrahim has been detained can no longer be accepted."

The fact Mr Halawa is being tried in a mass trial along with hundreds of others is believed to be a key factor in the repeated postponements, though Egypt's shambolic judicial system has long been criticised by human rights groups.

It emerged recently that a technical review of audio-visual material presented in the case and prepared last July by the Egyptian Ministry of Interior for the court of appeal in Cairo found no evidence against Mr Halawa. Amnesty says this chimes with its own research, stating that Mr Halawa could not have committed the crimes as he was already sheltering in the mosque at the time.

Mr Halawa's trial is now postponed until April 5 and his legal team plans to lodge a legal opinion with the Irish Government on how to proceed with action against the Egyptian state.

It argues that the current trial process clearly does not meet the standards required by international law.

Irish Independent