Statement on Ibrahim Halawa deemed ‘counterproductive’

Human rights commission decided against addressing case after Government email

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) backed down from making a statement on the case of Ibrahim Halawa, the Irish teenager imprisoned for almost two years in Egypt, after being told by the Department of Foreign Affairs it could be "counterproductive".

Records show that Colin Wrafter, director of the department's human rights unit, told IHREC's chief commissioner Emily Logan, on April 17th, that issuing such a statement would "further 'heat'" the situation and "might be counterproductive".

The records were released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

No statement about Mr Halawa’s situation was issued by the commission.

On its website, the commission is described as “an independent national human rights and equality institution”.

The records show that at its plenary meeting on April 14th, the commission discussed Mr Halawa’s detention. He has been awaiting trial along with 420 others since being detained in August 2013. He had been present during a confrontation with Egyptian security forces.

Earlier this month his case was adjourned for a seventh time and he has now reportedly gone on hunger strike.

At the plenary meeting, an unidentified member of the commission expressed the view that his case was not getting the support it deserved. It was suggested the commission make a statement.

DFA records

Among the records, released by the Department of Foreign Affairs, is an email from Mr Wrafter to Caitríona Ingoldsby in the consular section, dated April 16th, with the subject line “Ibrahim Halawa”.

In the email he says that Ms Logan left a message on his phone.

“She would like to talk in the morning (Friday) re the Halawa case . . . I would be grateful if you could copy me with any recent briefing notes which I could draw on in my conversation tomorrow with Emily.”

In an email to staff the next day, Ms Ingoldsby said: “Colin [Wrafter] spoke to Emily earlier. Apparently a member of the commission has suggested they would make a statement on the case. Focus seems to be on treatment/imprisonment etc, ie Egyptian rather than this Department’s approach.

“Colin is to get back to her and following our discussion will suggest 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 email was sent to staff in the Minister’s office, the Secretary General’s office, the Anglo-Irish division, the political division, the Middle-East unit and the human rights unit.

In an email later that day, Mr Wrafter told the same group of recipients that he had spoken to Ms Logan and “explained our view . . . which she accepted”.

On April 22nd, Ms Logan wrote a letter to Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan about the case.

“We understand that full consular assistance is being provided to Ibrahim Halawa and his family at this time, as he continues to be held in Egypt awaiting trial.”

She said the commission wished to place on record their “concern in relation to this very serious case and ask to be kept informed of developments to assesses whether a more public intervention, if appropriate, might be useful at a later date”.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times