Ibrahim Halawa cleared: ‘He was jumping up and down’

In front of Egyptian TV cameras judges read out hundreds of sentences in order of severity

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

 

The first sign for Ibrahim Halawa that things might be going his way – after 1,497 days in prison and up to 30 trial adjournments – came when the court in Cairo allowed in the television cameras.

For a process that has been so opaque and unpredictable over the past four years, this marked a major change of tack. It seemed that not only was justice going to be done, it would be seen to be done – on Egypt’s evening news.

The three judges presiding over the trial of hundreds of defendants, including Halawa, opened proceedings with verses from the Koran. Then the charges were read out, and the relevant section of the Egyptian criminal code.

The prosecutor sat on the left of the specially built courtroom beside Wadi al-Natroun prison north of Cairo; a slew of lawyers occupied the seats in front of the judicial bench.

To the right of the court, obscured behind bars, a metal grille and plate glass, the defendants waited anxiously for the verdicts.

These were delivered in order of severity, starting with 43 life sentences. Further multiple sentences were handed down for 15 years and 10 years, though many of those found guilty were in absentia. One prisoner was jailed for 10 years, even though he is dead.

Then came the list of those acquitted.

Mohammed Morsi

The presiding judge read through a list of 52 names that included not one but four Halawas. Somaia, Fatima and Omaima, Ibrahim’s sisters who were arrested along with him on August 17th, 2013, during protests against the ousting of then president Mohammed Morsi, were acquitted in their absence.

The three women had been released on bail in November that year and had long since returned to Dublin. Morsi is also in jail and was told earlier this month he would serve a 25-year sentence.

Eventually, it came to Ibrahim Halawa’s turn. The PA system had been malfunctioning earlier, leading to confusion among the prisoner group as verdicts were handed down, but there were no such problems as the judge intoned the court’s decision in relation to the Dublin-born 21-year-old.

“He was jumping up and down with a smile on his face. He was really happy,” said one court observer sitting close enough to see – but not hear – Halawa’s reaction in his protective enclosure.

Thumbs-up sign

He was not the only person smiling in the room; a brace of Irish diplomats present in the court refrained from jumping up and down but their delight was visible, and one gave Halawa the thumbs-up sign.

And with the last acquittals, the trial came to an end and the defendants shuffled back into the adjoining prison to their varying fates. Although the outcome was as good as those who have worked to secure his release over the past years could expect, there was no expectation of an immediate release.

“Don’t be expecting any Birmingham Six moment, with him coming out of jail and punching the air,” one observer advised.

But while it may take some days for Halawa to be released, and he is likely to pass the 1,500-day mark behind bars, the question now is not “if” but “when”.