Government to push for Halawa’s return after Monday verdict

Senior figures believe 21-year-old Irish man could be back in Ireland within weeks

Amnesty International, family members and fellow protesters, gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy in Dublin to highlight the four-years that Ibrahim Halawa has been in prison in Egypt. Video: Sean Dunne/Irish Times video team

 

The Government is planning a high-level diplomatic push for the immediate return to Ireland of Ibrahim Halawa within hours of a verdict being delivered at his trial in Cairo on Monday.

Senior figures believe that after four years in detention, the 21-year-old Irish man could be back in Ireland within weeks, bringing to a conclusion a case that has drawn international condemnation, split the parties in the Dáil and strained relations between Dublin and Cairo.

The Government plans to respond to the verdict by seeking to call in a commitment already given by Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who has said Mr Halawa will be returned to Ireland when his trial concludes.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have cleared large parts of their diaries for early next week to deal with the fallout from the verdict. If deemed necessary they will contact their Egyptian counterparts, Mr Sisi and foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, and Irish diplomats in Cairo have been instructed to work official channels on the ground.

“It’s surreal at this stage that it’s finally coming to a verdict,” Mr Halawa’s sister Somaia said. She urged the Government to act quickly to request his release and return, and said she was concerned that a further delay could not be ruled out. That concern is shared by senior figures in Government.

No evidence presented

Mr Halawa, from Firhouse in Dublin, was 17 when he and hundreds of others were arrested in August 2013 in Cairo during protests against the ousting of then president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. He has been on trial with 493 others, but the process has been beset by delays, and substantive hearings have only taken place in the past eight months. No evidence implicating Mr Halawa was presented to the three-judge court.

Somaia said her brother, whose physical and mental health had deteriorated in detention, felt unsure as to “whether it really is coming to an end” and that the family was apprehensive. “We are very hopeful, very sad, very happy – all these mixed feelings together.”

The Government has drawn up contingency plans for three broad outcomes: an acquittal, a conviction on relatively minor charges, and a conviction for more serious offences.

If he is acquitted and the Egyptians fulfil their commitment, senior sources believe Mr Halawa could return to Ireland within two weeks. His formal release from prison would take three days, while he will also have to be issued with a new passport through the Cairo embassy and taken off an Egyptian no-fly list to which he was added because of his pending trial.

If he is convicted on relatively minor charges, and perhaps sentenced to time already served, Irish sources believe he could be returned with minimal intervention. A conviction of more serious offences, described by one source as “the worst-case scenario”, would require more political involvement.

Muslim feast

The timing of any release could also be affected by the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, which begins on Wednesday and will result in a shutdown of most public offices in Cairo.

It is unclear whether Mr Sisi plans to return Mr Halawa by way of a presidential pardon or by decree under law 140 – the method used to release the Australian journalist Peter Greste in 2015.

If it is the latter, Mr Halawa would be deported, and to do that he would have to formally renounce any claim on Egyptian citizenship. Mr Halawa, who was born and spent all his life in Ireland, has only ever had an Irish passport, but the Egyptian authorities consider anyone with Egyptian-born parents a citizen.

Three of Mr Halawa’s sisters – Somaia, Fatima and Omaima – are also due to receive verdicts in their cases on Monday. The three women were arrested on the same day as Mr Halawa but were released on bail in November 2013 and returned to Ireland.