Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said the Government is determined to see the release of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, who is about to enter his fifth year in prison in Cairo.
On the fourth anniversary of Mr Halawa's detention, Mr Coveney said: "I want to reaffirm my determination and that of the Irish Government to seeing this young man released from prison in Egypt and returned to his family in Dublin so that he can resume his life and his studies."
Mr Halawa, from Firhouse in Tallaght, was 17 when he was first detained in August 2013 in the aftermath of protests led by the Muslim Brotherhood. He is on trial with 492 other prisoners. His trial has been adjourned at least 30 times.
Amnesty International has said the mass trial cannot meet the standards required for a fair trial.
The prosecution finally began its case in the trial late last month and the defence case opened on August 1st.
Mr Halawa was arrested, along with his three sisters Somaia, Fatima and Omaima, in the Al Fath mosque. While the three young women were released on bail, Mr Halawa has been held for almost four years and his trial was adjourned at least 30 times.
The prosecution finally began its case in the mass trial late last month and the defence case opened on August 1st.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney then welcomed the start of the defence phase just two weeks short of the fourth anniversary of Mr Halawa’s arrest. The Halawa family has been critical of the Government’s response to his case.
In a statement, Mr Halawa’s family said four years in jail was “too long for someone who is innocent”.
They said that four years ago they had been arrested while taking refuge in Al Fath mosque in Cairo.
“We had been peacefully demonstrating for democracy and opposing recent violence against protesters. Three months later we were released on bail but Ibrahim remained.”
Mr Halawa’s sister Somaia told The Irish Times things had been “very difficult” for the family.
“It’s four years now and you just feel that he’s still inside and (you wonder) how long is he going to spend there? His friends have graduated and started new jobs,” she said.
Officials from the Irish embassy in Cairo have been in court for the proceedings.
Speaking in Dublin on Thursday, Egypt’s ambassador to Ireland Soha Gendi said any decision in relation to Mr Halawa was “in the hands of the president”.
“He can send him back to Ireland,” she said.
Ms Gendi objected to the description of Mr Halawa’s case as “a mass trial”, saying said it was a “huge case” involving “a big number of people” and it was an “exceptional situation”.
She also rejected allegations of torture and ill treatment.
Amnesty International Ireland said Egypt continued to ignore its obligations under both Egyptian and international human rights law.
Executive director Colm O’Gorman said the organisation had conducted a “thorough, independent review of the prosecution evidence” and had concluded that Mr Halawa was arrested “solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of assembly and expression”.
“His ongoing detention is an inexcusable violation of both international and Egyptian law. Given the length of his imprisonment and the horrific circumstances of his detention, Amnesty International continues to be gravely concerned for both his mental and physical wellbeing,” Mr O’Gorman said.
The organisation called on the Egyptian authorities to drop all charges against him and to order his immediate and unconditional release and urged the Government to continue working on his behalf and to use every means at its disposal to secure his release.
Amnesty International Ireland activists and staff will hold a demonstration alongside Mr Halawa’s friends and family outside the Egyptian embassy on Clyde Road in Dublin at 1pm on Thursday.