Government to send medical expert to Egypt for Ibrahim Halawa

The mass trial of Dubliner and 493 others is due to resume in Cairo on Wednesday

The Government is to send an independent medical expert to Egypt to assess the health of Dubliner Ibrahim Halawa, who has been in jail awaiting trial for more than three years.

Mr Halawa (21), from Firhouse in south Dublin, was detained in a mosque near Ramses Square in Cairo as the Muslim Brotherhood held a "day of rage" over the removal of president Mohamed Morsi in August 2013.

The Cabinet on Tuesday discussed his case, and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said afterwards the Government had asked the Chief Medical Officer to nominate a medical expert who would be given access to Mr Halawa.

A Government spokesman said the Egyptian authorities usually granted requests made by the Irish authorities.


Ms Zappone said Mr Halawa’s legal representatives had provided her with a report on his health. “The Taoiseach and other Ministers shared my deep concern when I informed them of a report on Ibrahim’s health,” she said.

“I also expressed the deep concern of his sisters Somaia and Fatima about the years of delay in securing their brother’s release.

"Following a discussion, it was agreed that Ireland will ask that a medical expert, nominated by the Chief Medical Officer, would be given access to Ibraham. This should happen as a matter of extreme urgency."

Ms Zappone, the Halawa family's local TD, also said she would facilitate a "meeting between the Halawa family and Irish Government officials to review the approach being taken to secure Ibrahim's freedom".

The mass trial of Mr Halawa and 493 others is due to resume in Cairo on Wednesday. The proceedings were adjourned for a 19th time last month, the latest false start in a case that has been beset by delays and adjournments for over three years.

Last week, Somaia Halawa, Mr Halawa's sister, said he was on hunger strike and suffering from a skin disease she linked to an "inhuman prison hospital" in which he was being held. Ms Halawa said her brother's blood sugar levels were low and that he was kept in solitary confinement for a period of 48 hours.

The mass trial of 494 defendants appeared to be making some progress in January, when at one hearing ten witnesses were called to give evidence. The witnesses, including nine police officers, gave evidence relating to clashes at Ramses Square and the Al Fateh mosque, where Mr Halawa and three of his sisters were arrested on August 16th, 2013.

That day, a demonstration was held at Ramses Square in response to the earlier demolition by security forces of a protest encampment in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, which Human Rights Watch said left at least 817 people dead.

The encampment had been set up by supporters of then president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had been ousted from office.

Lawyers for the 494 defendants were allowed to cross-examine the witnesses, and Mr Halawa’s lawyer questioned the police officers on a number of general points. Mr Halawa, who was in court for the hearing, was not mentioned by any of the witnesses, it is understood.

A number of the police officers were asked in court if they could identify any protesters from Ramses Square that day, but it is understood that in nearly all cases the officers said they could not.

One officer identified a defendant whose name appears in a technical review of video evidence previously presented to the court. A civilian whose brother was killed on Ramses Square also gave evidence.

A copy of the seven-page technical review, which has been seen by The Irish Times, states that a team of three specialists was tasked by the court with examining 261 video clips of "riots and violent events" at a number of locations in Cairo around the time of the alleged offences.

The report’s authors used photographs of 330 of the accused men and attempted to identify them in the video images. However, according to the report, only two of the accused were identified.

“We were not able to confirm the suspicions [against] the other accused among the large crowd of people appearing in the video recordings and the digital images contained in the exhibits,” it states.

The report makes no reference to Mr Halawa.

Amnesty International, which has declared the Irish man a prisoner of conscience, has said the technical review validates its own independent review of the prosecution evidence, which concluded that Mr Halawa was arrested "solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of assembly and expression."

Last month, a delegation of eight TDs visited Mr Halawa in prison, where he protested his innocence and said he wanted to come home to Ireland. Mr Halawa told the politicians he had been beaten, dragged and on occasion put in solitary confinement for complaining about poor conditions. He said that at times he refused food out of a sense of desperation.

At a separate meeting, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi told the TDs he would intervene to ensure Mr Halawa was released and returned to Ireland when his trial concluded, according to a number of those who attended.