Halawas ‘overwhelmed, excited, delighted’ by Ibrahim’s acquittal

Halawa family thanks public for support over four-year ordeal on an emotional day

Ibrahim Halawa's sister Fatima was "overwhelmed with joy" following her brother's acquittal after spending over four years in an Egyptian prison. Video: Patsy McGarry

 

Pandemonium took over in a Dublin sitting room on Monday as Ireland’s happiest family realised that, after a tortuous four-year battle, their son, brother, uncle and in-law Ibrahim Halawa (21) had been acquitted by an Egyptian court.

“We were overwhelmed, excited, delighted. There were tears of joy and tears of happiness. Some were thanking God, kneeling down to thank him, some were crying, some were hugging,” recalled his sister Fatima in more tranquil moments later.

“We were not expecting a verdict,” she said, as Ibrahim’s case had already been adjourned 25 times since he was arrested in August 2013. “That was what made it so special.”

The family had gathered in Firhouse to watch the live-streaming of proceedings from an Egyptian courtroom. Present were Ibrahim’s father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, imam at the mosque in Clonskeagh; Ibrahim’s mother, Amina; his sisters Somaia, Fatima, Omaima; brother Ahmed; in-laws; nieces; and nephews.

Family and friends celebrate the news that Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted in a Cairo court. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Family and friends celebrate the news that Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted in a Cairo court. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The family’s hopes “had been shattered so many times,” recalled Fatima. “Then Ibrahim was the first person declared innocent. It was beautiful.”

The family do not expect Ibrahim to return to Ireland for “a couple of days”, she said, as paperwork will have to be got through in Egypt first. “Then he will be back in Dublin. We are over the moon. There will definitely be some sort of celebration.”

Some of the family have not seen him for four years.

Amazing support

Support the Halawas received from people in Ireland over the years had been “amazing, beautiful”.

“It’s what makes us Irish in a sense,” she said. “That’s the most amazing thing about being Irish.”

At the Holy Rosary primary school in Ballycullen, secretary Maria Kelly, who has been writing to Ibrahim Halawa over the four years, said people there had been crying at the news. “We’re so happy for him and his family. They are the nicest people you could ever meet. We can’t wait to see him when he gets home.”

She recalled that all Halawa children who attended the school “took part in everything. We had a nativity play called Stable Manners. We had a donkey and a cow and nothing would do Ibrahim but to be the cow. He’s a lovely fellow.”

In the wider world, Ibrahim Halawa’s acquittal was welcomed by President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, representatives of the political parties, his solicitor Darragh Mackin of KRW Law, Amnesty International and the Union of Students in Ireland.

“Today’s decision brings to an end a long ordeal that Ibrahim, his family, friends and legal team have been put through,” said President Higgins, who also acknowledged “ the important efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the staff at Ireland’s Embassy in Cairo” in the case.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed the end of “what has been an extraordinarily protracted case.” He expected that Ibrahim Halawa would be “released as soon as possible and can return home to his family.” The Government, he said, would facilitate this “at the earliest opportunity.”

Mr Coveney said on Monday that the Government has applied for Mr Halawa’s release from prison to be fast-tracked.

Speaking at the United Nations general assembly in New York, Mr Coveney said an application had been made on Monday morning by authorities to fast-track his return to Ireland. He expects Mr Halawa to return home by the end of the week.

‘Difficult to accept’

“After a verdict in a court case is made, my understanding is that it normally takes four to five working days for somebody to be released,” Mr Coveney told The Irish Times. “There needs to be an application for release papers, a procedure has to be followed. We have applied and asked that this should be fast-tracked. The most important thing is that we know he’s going to be free in the next week, and hopefully it will be a much shorter time frame than that.

Nosayba Halawa, left, hugs friends as the family celebrate at home in Firhouse. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Nosayba Halawa, left, hugs friends as the family celebrate at home in Firhouse. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“We’re delighted and relieved. This has been a four-year nightmare for the Halawa family and obviously for Ibrahim. To spend four years from the age of 17-21 in prison, and then to be found innocent, is a very difficult thing to accept, but this is a really good news day. Many people expected a very difficult result. My focus now and the focus of the Government is to ensure that he comes home safely and help the family where needed.”

Mr Coveney said that Ibrahim’s case had taken up more consular focus within the Department of Foreign Affairs than probably any other case in Irish history.

“We are very relieved at the outcome. The practicalities of him leaving custody, getting on a plane to Ireland is now where we’re focusing.”

Mr Coveney is representing Ireland at the 72nd UN general assembly in New York this week. He attended a plenary session on reforming the United Nations with President Trump earlier on Monday, and is due to hold several bilateral meetings during the week.