Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Commencement Matters

Human Rights Issues

10:30 am

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan. I thank him for the work he has done to date on this case, of which the family is appreciative.

As the Minister is aware, Mr. Ibrahim Halawa has now been in an Egyptian prison for 554 days. For any teenager to be locked up for that length of time is not easy. It is be bad enough being locked up in one's own country, but it is much more difficult in a foreign country. This week, for the fourth time, his trial has been postponed. This is intolerable for him, first, being in prison in Cairo and, second, being so far from home. In fact, his home place is not far from where I live in Templeogue. It is outrageous that his trial has been postponed once again.

Mr. Halawa is a prisoner of conscious and was detained solely for peacefully exercising his rights. However, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Given that 493 others are involved in the same trial, one has to ask how, in the name of God, will anybody receive a fair trail in such a system. He was only 17 years old when he was put in prison. He was arrested with his three sisters who are now home. With the whole family, they have played a huge role in trying to have him released. I will keep the issue on the agenda until such time as he is released because I cannot see why he should remain in detention. According to the case file seen by Amnesty International Ireland, most of the 100 witnesses who are due to be called at the trial are police officers or government officials. One has to ask what kind of trial he will receive.

I acknowledge the work the Minister has done on this case, on which I have been keeping an eye. I am aware that he has been very active on it, as has the Irish ambassador. Is there is any other avenue we could explore, or is there a need to go down the same avenue again to keep the issue on the agenda with a view to having Mr. Halawa released? Perhaps the Minister might state what has been done to date and what action could follow. Mr. Halawa's family is very grateful for the efforts made by the Minister to date but think more could be done. This is a most deserving case. As Amnesty International Ireland has stated, the most Mr. Halawa could be accused of is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He has been locked up for crimes he did not commit. I am not judge and jury, but I such incidents happen when one is in the wrong place at the wrong time, particularly in that country's system of justice. We must do everything we can to get him home.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue.

Mr. Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen, and his three sisters were detained following incidents at the Al Fateh Mosque on Ramses Square in Cairo on 17 August 2013. His sisters were later released, but he remains in detention. His case is a source of concern for me, as I know it is for the Senator and many others. From my first day in office, I have taken an active role in progressing matters. In my first week in office I spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry to set out my concerns about Mr. Halawa's detention. I have spoken to him on a number of other occasions, including twice in person, to stress the fact that Mr. Halawa was only 17 years old at the time of the alleged offences and ask for his release in order that he might return to his studies and family in Ireland.

Senior officials in Dublin and Cairo have been in ongoing and sustained contact with the Egyptian authorities, including senior officials at the foreign ministry, the Ministry of Justice and the office of the prosecutor general. Mr. Halawa has received 34 consular visits from Irish Embassy staff, including Ambassador Moylan, approximately one visit every two weeks, the most recent being on 7 February. It is the Government's view that he should not be tried in a group trial involving a large number of defendants and on the basis of group charges but solely on the basis of specific evidence. The concern is that the Egyptian authorities continue to consider his case to be part of a group trial, but the fact remains that he was only 17 years old when the alleged offences took place.

I also recently raised the case with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Mogherini who undertook to raise it with the appropriate authorities.

She stressed that we can count on all the assistance that the EU institutions can provide. I am concerned that, for the fourth time, this trial was once again delayed on 8 February. The trial is now scheduled to take place on 29 March.

I have maintained ongoing contact with the Halawa family since August 2013. My understanding is that senior officials have been in regular contact as I have been. I am due

The Egyptian President has issued a decree in respect of foreign nationals in Egypt who have been sentenced, or who are awaiting trial. I am aware of the recent deportation from Egypt of the Australian Al Jazeera journalist. However, there are few, if any, details available as to the exact scope and practical operation of the decree.

In particular it is unclear what the decree may mean in practice for those whom Egypt regards as dual nationals, as is the case for Ibrahim Halawa. Officials in my Department remain in ongoing contact with the lawyers in the case and continue to highlight his Irish citizenship and to seek further information from the Egyptian authorities about

Ireland will continue to seek a review of Ibrahim Halawa's case, his release and return to his studies and his family and, in the meantime, to provide all possible consular assistance

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I do not think there is anything extra for me to say. I thank the Minister for what he has done and for his commitment to keeping up the pressure. I hope it will not take too long, that the trial will not be postponed again or that Ibrahim Halawa might be released before the trial.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I assure the Senator this matter is very much on the agenda and I look forward to meeting members of the Halawa family this afternoon and members of Amnesty International.