The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission was divided over whether to issue a call for the "immediate release" of Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa from an Egyptian prison.
According to records released under the Freedom of Information Act, the commission decided not to call for his release, having been advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs that it could be “counterproductive”.
Mr Halawa, from Dublin, has been awaiting trial along with 420 others since August 2013 after being present during a confrontation between demonstrators and Egyptian security forces. He is reportedly on hunger strike and his family say his health is deteriorating.
His sister Somaia said she would like the commission to issue such a statement, saying “nothing else is working”.
Records released by the commission show the case was raised by commissioner Betty Purcell at its plenary meeting on April 14th .
The minutes show commissioner Ray Murphy said "there is satisfaction with the role of DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] , and they are professional in what they do in these contexts". He recommended that the group "follow DFA closely".
Chief commissioner Emily Logan said she would "be happy to link in with DFA" and "check whether issuing a public statement would be helpful".
Records previously released under Freedom of Information by the Department of Foreign Affairs show that Ms Logan spoke to Colin Wrafter, director of the department's human rights unit, on April 17th.
He conveyed the view of the consular division that “it might be better to hold off on issuing any statement that they may wish to issue until after 26 April given the formal bail application formally supported by us is under consideration by the court and the possibility that further ‘heat’ might be counterproductive at this time."
The commission records show that Ms Logan emailed the 14 commissioners that day, saying “the head of the consular division . . . believes the situation to be extremely sensitive and that an intervention by the commission would not be helpful. It is my view that we should heed the view of the DFA.”
While most of the commissioners agreed, three did not.
Ms Purcell, in response to Ms Logan’s email, argued: “The job of diplomats is to be cautious. The job of a national human rights institution is to be forthright and clear in defence of human rights where a clear denial is involved.”
She said she had spoken to Mr Halawa’s solicitor, Cahir O’Higgins, and “he is very supportive of a statement from the commission calling for Ibrahim’s immediate release . . . This is a test of our resilience and independence.”
Commissioner Orlagh O’Farrell said: “I feel we should make a statement”.
Commissioner Kieran Rose said: "We should listen to the advice of Foreign Affairs, consider it, but take our own decision as an independent human rights and equality commission and, as was the general consensus of the plenary, make clear our support for the human rights of this Irish citizen."
Commissioner Siobhan Mullally suggested that Ms Logan write to Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan "expressing concern and asking to be kept informed of developments". Ms Logan did this on April 22nd.