Ibrahim Halawa acquitted of all charges, expected to be released within days
Decision after four years of appeals, adjournments, diplomacy, demonstrations, Dáil rows
Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted of all charges after spending four years in jail in Egypt. He is expected to be released within days.
The verdict comes after four years of family appeals, trial adjournments, diplomatic interventions, Dáil rows, visits by an Oireachtas delegation and demonstrations.
The judgement was expected to be delivered last month but it was adjourned until today. It is unlikely he will be released immediately due to procedures within the Egyptian judicial and prison authorities.
Mr Halawa has spent more than four years in jail. The then 17-year-old teenager from Firhouse, Tallaght, Co Dublin was arrested along with three of his sisters - Somaia, Fatima and Omaima - on August 17th, 2013 and hundreds of others at the Al Fateh grand mosque in Cairo during protests against the ousting of then president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mr Halawa’s three sisters were released a month later on bail, but were listed as defendants in a mass trial of 494 including their brother. All three, who were tried in absentia, were also acquitted.
The defendants were all facing the death penalty but none received it. Instead, the judge sentenced hundreds to jail terms, including 43 people to life in prison, which in Egypt is 25 years, and five years of parole.
Another 17 people were sentenced to 15 years in prison, 67 to 10 years, and 216 to five years.
End of suffering
His sister Nosayba Halawa , who watched the court proceedings online, said she hopes he will be allowed back home to Ireland soon.
“We couldn’t believe (the news) after all the suffering. It is coming to an end. He will be very happy and delighted,” Ms Halawa told RTÉ News.
She added: “I hope he is home very soon. He has suffered a lot and we have suffered a lot.”
“We are delighted with today’s news,” said Darragh Mackin, Halawa’s Irish lawyer. “After four turbulent years, Ibrahim Halawa has been found innocent of all charges. He has, from day one, maintained his innocence to the charges. He now looks forward to being reunited with his family an innocent man.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed the news of Mr Halawa’s acquittal.
He said he expected him to be released as soon as possible to return home to his family.
“The Government will facilitate his return home at the earliest opportunity.
“I want to acknowledge the consular and diplomatic work undertaken on Ibrahim’s behalf by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Irish Embassy in Cairo throughout this lengthy process.
“Following today’s verdict, they will continue to assist Ibrahim and his family to ensure he gets home as soon as possible,” Mr Varadkar added.
Mr Halawa’s trial had been adjourned 25 times. The prosecution finally ended its case in the trial late last month and the defence case opened on August 1st. There were fears this could take another year but the verdict is now expected on Monday.
No evidence implicating Mr Halawa was presented. The reasons for the long delay Department of Foreign Affairs officials have suggested, included complications of a mass trial and the fact that some of the defendants expected harsh sentences, and thus have an incentive to string the process out.
Egypt’s ambassador to Ireland Sonia Gendi has 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”.
As for the verdict, Ms Gendi said any decision in relation to Mr Halawa was “in the hands of the president” and “he can send him back to Ireland”.
The Halawa family has been persistently critical of the Government’s response to his case, saying four years in jail was “too long for someone who is innocent”.
But they said they are encouraged by the “new Government” and by an unexpected meeting last month with Mr Varadkar when he joined a meeting Minister for Foreign Affairs Coveney was having with Mr Halawa’s father, Sheikh Hussein, who is the imam of the Clonskeagh Mosque, and two of his daughters, Somaia and Nosayba in Leinster House.
One of the options considered for a time by the Government was to take legal action against Egypt over the treatment of Mr Halawa.
However, this was not pursued as officials feared it would result in Cairo pulling back from a commitment to release the young Irish man, viewing it as a hostile action and the existing commitment to release the 21-year-old would be taken off the table once the trial ended.
Mr Halawa claims he has been tortured and has gone on hunger strikes during his imprisonment.
Last year a former cellmate called on the Government to act to assist in the release of the Irish man as he expressed alarm at the length of his detention.
Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste wrote to the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs to state that he was in no way a violent terrorist or a threat to society. He described him as a young idealist with strong political views whose only offence was to exercise his constitutional right to free speech.
Mr Greste said he also believed Mr Halawa’s Egyptian background may have had an impact on his situation. “His ethnic origins have obscured the far more important need to address the way Ibrahim’s most basic rights as an Irish and European citizen have been denied.”
The Australian was one of three Al Jazeera journalists arrested and jailed in Egypt in 2014 on terrorism charges. He shared a cell with Mr Halawa but was released under Law 140, which allows for release under presidential decree with extradition or deportation.
The 21-year-old was being held in conditions “far worse than any internationally-accepted standards for prisoners”, Mr Greste said, echoing the repeated concerns of Mr Halawa’s family who feared for his life.
The Egyptian ambassador has rejected all allegations of torture and ill treatment.
Additional reporting: Reuters