Ibrahim Halawa: an unacceptable delay

The Egyptian government has the power to expedite Halawa’s release and should do so immediately

Ibrahim Halawa celebrates moments after his acquittal by an anti-terrorism court at the Wadi Natrun prison outside Cairo on September 18th. Photograph: Declan Walsh/The New York Times

More than three weeks after he was acquitted of all charges against him, Ibrahim Halawa remains in prison in Egypt, and Irish authorities appear to be in the dark as to when he will be released. The delay is a worrying postscript to a scandalous legal saga that cost the young Irish man four years of his life.

Halawa's acquittal on September 18th, after a mass trial in which no evidence against him was presented, brought immeasurable relief to the 21-year-old, his family and those who had worked tirelessly to support him. It was assumed that bureaucratic procedures would force Halawa to remain in prison for a few days after that, but an unexplained delay of three weeks is farcical and unacceptable. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who has expressed frustration at the wait, has said the problem is procedural in that the prosecutor's office must process the cases of more than 400 defendants from the trial at the same time. That may be true, but with each passing day suspicions will harden that something more is at play.

According to Amnesty International, Halawa's Egyptian lawyer says the Cairo criminal court has yet to inform the public prosecutor and attorney general of the acquittal – meaning the authorities have not yet begun to process the paperwork for Halawa's release. The Department of Foreign Affairs is not in a position to say even that its officials have been able to visit Halawa.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has written to president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi asking for his help to speed up the process, while Coveney has been in contact with his counterpart, Sameh Shoukry. Those steps are important, but the Government must keep up the pressure. For fours years, the Egyptian authorities rejected Dublin's demands for Halawa's release by insisting they could not intervene in a judicial process. Irrespective of how true that was, the process has now ended and the excuse no longer stands. The Egyptian government clearly has the power to expedite Halawa's release. It should do so without delay.