Varadkar in unexpected meeting with Ibrahim Halawa family

Relatives encouraged by Leo Varadkar’s interest in the case

Somaia Halawa with a postcard of her brother: Ibrahim Halawa has been  held in Egypt for almost four years. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Somaia Halawa with a postcard of her brother: Ibrahim Halawa has been held in Egypt for almost four years. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

The family of Ibrahim Halawa, the young Dublin man held in jail in Egypt for almost four years, has said they are encouraged by the fact that the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, held an unexpected meeting with them earlier this week.

Mr Halawa’s father, Sheikh Hussein, who is the imam of the Clonskeagh Mosque, and two of his daughters, Somaia and Nosayba, were in Leinster House meeting the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, when Mr Varadkar joined the meeting.

“He asked how Ibrahim was and wanted to know what the strategy was” for dealing with his case, Somaia Halawa said. “The fact that he made the effort to meet us was appreciated.”

The family has in the past criticised the Irish Government’s efforts on behalf of Ibrahim, and Somaia said they were very pleased with the interest of the new Taoiseach.

During the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar expressed a desire to speak with Ibrahim, and Mr Coveney expressed an interest in travelling to Egypt, she said.

Ibrahim was arrested when he was 17 in Cairo with his sisters Somaia, Fatima, and Omaima, during protests called by the Muslim Brotherhood. They were all arrested but the sisters were later released. Sheikh Hussein comes from Egypt.

Poor condition

At the meeting,which was also attended by the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and senior officials, there was discussion about whether Ireland should seek to take Egypt to court, something which officials fear might cause Egypt not to go through with a commitment to release the young Dublin man if he is ever convicted.

The family is frustrated at how long the trial is taking (it has been adjourned 27 times). He is being tried along with 492 other prisoners. With the defence case due to begin shortly, the family fears that it “could take another year” before all the defendants’ lawyers are heard.

Nosayba, who had just returned from Egypt where she saw her brother, briefed the meeting on his condition. Somaia said that his physical health is not good, he is having trouble sleeping, and the family is particularly worried about his mental health. “He is very upset that his hair is falling out, and he is going bald.”

She said the family understands that taking Egypt to court may not be a better course of action but that if the trial continues to drag on they would be willing to take the risk. “What could be worse than what is happening now?” she said.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said the meeting was private and he could not comment.