Flanagan expresses concern over deferral of Halawa trial

Trial of Irish citizen imprisoned in Egypt moved to new venue with no date set

Omaima, Fatima and Somaia Halawa, holding a photo of their brother Ibrahim, who is still in prison in Egypt.  Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Omaima, Fatima and Somaia Halawa, holding a photo of their brother Ibrahim, who is still in prison in Egypt. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 19:31

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has expressed his concern over the deferral of the trial of Ibrahim Halawa, the Irish citizen who has been detained in Egypt for the past year.

In a Cairo court today the trial of Mr Halawa was transferred to a new venue and a new judge without a date being fixed for substantive proceedings.

Mr Halawa (18) and 493 other defendants face charges of murder, attempted murder, membership in a terrorist organisation, and destruction of public property.

“I know that the deferral of the case is a great cause of concern for Ibrahim and his family, as it is to me and the Government,” Mr Flanagan said.

“I have repeatedly emphasised the importance of due process in this case and in a number of calls to the Egyptian foreign minister, Minister Shoukry, I have emphasised that Ibrahim was only 17 when the alleged offences took place, and that he planned to return to Ireland immediately if released,” said Mr Flanagan.

He added that while Ireland could not interfere with the judicial process in Egypt it was the Irish Government’s view that Mr Halawa, as a minor, should not be tried as part of a trial involving a large number of defendants and on the basis of sweeping group charges, but solely on the basis of specific evidence.

He added that Ireland’s Ambassador to Egypt, Isolde Moylan, was in court and that Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, had visited Mr Halawa over 20 times in the past year and had taken every opportunity to raise his case with the Egyptian authorities.

“I have taken a close personal interest in this case and myself and my Department will continue to provide all assistance possible,” he added. Mr Halawa’s sister Nosayba Halawa told The Irish Times that the second postponement had left her family frustrated. “I don’t have a word for how we feel. We start from scratch again.”

She said the delays are due to the lack of cages which serve as docks to hold the large number of defendants, all of whom must be present in the cages at the same time.

The brief proceedings took place in a large courtroom equipped with four cages which could hold only a quarter of the accused. Irish-born Mr Halawa was detained at al-Fatah mosque in Ramses Square in central Cairo on August 17th last year along with his three elder sisters during a banned march against the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi, a senior figure in the Brotherhood.

The sisters — Somaia (28), Fatima (23) and Omaima (21) were held for three months, released on bail and allowed to return to Ireland where they remain. They refuse to return to Egypt and face trial.

The four joined the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in the Nasr City district of the capital on July 3rd last year, the day Mr Morsi was deposed, and took part in media promotion of his cause and often slept among the tens of thousands of people camped in the square.

On August 16th, the Halawas were caught up in the Ramses square march and were driven into the mosque which was soon surrounded by police, plain clothes security agents, and menacing local market stall holders demanding an end to pro-Brotherhood rallies.

Ms Moylan and her staff arranged safe passage for the Halawas but they refused to depart. When the mosque protest ended on the 17th many of those who took part were detained.

Mr Halawa has been moved from a minimum security prison to Tora prison, where leading figures of the former Mubarak regime have been detained.

During Ms Moylan’s most recent visit, the 21st for embassy personnel, she found him depressed and in low spirits and the facility grim and foreboding. He shares a cell with 15 others and his books and writing materials have been confiscated.

Hoping to catch a glimpse of him, his sister stood in the sun for six hours withdozens of family members of other prisoners outside the gate of the court, which stands next to massive walled dun-coloured Tora prison complex. No one was allowed to attend the session.

The majority were women in billowing black cloaks. Many were accompanied by children and carried boxes of provisions and clothing for prisoners. In the alleyway near the entrance two main battle tanks revved their engines while boys frolicked and vendors sold glasses of sweet tea.