Ibrahim Halawa has now spent 876 days without trial in a squalid Egyptian prison. My involvement with the campaign for his release began in April 2014. At the time I was acutely aware of the argument that speaking out publicly on such matters could be detrimental to any campaign.
These concerns were discussed with his family and with a number of human rights NGOs. The consensus was that maintaining Halawa in the spotlight would actually ensure his safety.
Nevertheless, each action taken has been approached with caution, as the life of a young man is above party politics and headlines.
On visiting Halawa in Wadi El Natrun in August 2015, it was a relief to hear first- hand from Halawa that he was absolutely positive the publicity was keeping him safe in prison. He spoke of waking up to the sounds of prisoners being beaten and how prison warders mocked him about thinking he was special because he was Irish.
Halawa's sister and lawyer accompanied me on that visit and the Irish consulate has been requested to follow suit. Their Australian counterparts ensured that the family of Peter Greste – the Australian Al Jazeera journalist who had shared a cell with Halawa – accompanied them during prison visits.
Seeing the emotion on Halawa’s face when he hugged his sister for the first time in almost two years is an image that will stay with me forever. We all left the prison that day more committed than ever to do what we could to have him released.
Over the last two years the campaign has sought to bring together politicians, human rights organisations, youth groups, trade unions, legal experts and former Egyptian prisoners. The ambition was for a co-ordinated approach based on the evidence of the successful tactics previously adopted by campaigners for Egyptian prisoners.
This culminated in a delegation to Brussels in October 2015. This delegation included legal representatives for the Al Jazeera journalists
and Greste; a former Egyptian prisoner,
, and his sister
, who had led his campaign for freedom;
; Reprieve – a human rights organisation based in London; the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies as well as Halawa’s former secondary school teacher and other Halawa campaigners.
From that day-long conference, we were more convinced than ever that Halawa’s best chance of release would be with a public campaign and cross-party political support.
It was with this in mind that a European Parliament resolution calling for Halawa's immediate release was pursued. Irish MEPs put political differences aside and agreed to my request that they lobby within their own European political groups. The resolution, which made it on to the December parliament agenda, received a resounding endorsement with 566 MEPs voting in favour and only 11 opposing.
It sent a very clear and public message to the Egyptian authorities that they were in breach of their human rights obligations under Egyptian and international law. It rightly condemned the fact that Halawa, a minor at the time of his arrest, has been in arbitrary detention for more than two years and that he should be released immediately under the use of the presidential decree – the same decree that secured Greste’s preconviction release in February 2015.
The Government says it has to be more nuanced in its language. That may be so but I do not agree with Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan when he says public statements might hinder Halawa's release.
The very public adoption of the resolution in the European Parliament has already seen discussions on Egyptian television about how it might be easier to release Halawa than to have such negative attention focused on
. The Dáil should now bring forward a cross-party motion calling for Halawa’s freedom.
It should be noted that last month another very public campaign saw Egyptian photo-journalist Esraa al-Taweel released on bail. Al Jazeera journalist Fahmy has also been very vocal since his release. He believes the Canadian government’s “hyper conservative approach” actually damaged and delayed his chances for freedom.
He has compared his campaign to that pursued by the Australian government for Greste’s release. Fahmy’s release came seven months after Greste’s. As for Halawa, he has now spent 15 months longer in prison than his former cellmate Greste.
Imagine if Halawa was your son, your brother, your classmate. Today he is due to face his 12th court hearing in a mass trial with more than 400 other prisoners and potentially faces the death penalty.
Please do what you can to lend your voice to this campaign. Contact the Egyptian embassy, spread the word on social media and let the world know that you stand with Halawa. #FreeIbrahim
Lynn Boylan is a Sinn Féin MEP