'Stripped, beaten, isolated': Halawa's sister presses government to secure his release

Family and legal team insist legal mechanism could be used to free jailed Irishman

halawa

Somaia (right) and sister Nosayba on Grafton Street in Dublin | File photo: PA Images

The sister of Ibrahim Halawa has urged the government to step up its efforts to free her brother.

Earlier, a lawyer representing Mr Halawa said an Egyptian presidential decree could be used to secure his release.

Law 140 allows foreign defendants to be repatriated back to their country of origin before sentencing, to either be tried in court or serve out their sentence, Mark Wassouf of the Doughty Street Chambers told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show.

The legal provision was used last year to free Australian journalist Peter Greste, whose deportation renewed hope for Mr Halawa’s case.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has previously insisted that the law could only be applied after the trial’s conclusion - advice he says was conveyed by Egyptian authorities.

The Fine Gael TD told the same programme today: “I believe that as soon as a verdict is handed down by the courts, we will then have an opportunity to pursue issues under the presidential decree.”

However, Mr Halawa’s legal team disagrees with that analysis and says legal precedents show the Egyptian argument should not be accepted at face value.

The 20-year-old’s trial has been repeatedly adjourned since his arrest in Cairo back in 2013. He is due back in court on June 29th.

Concerns

Mr Halawa’s sister told Newstalk.com that the family wants the government to take a stronger approach to his case.

“We appreciate their hard work, and the embassy staff who visit him, but nothing has changed in the past three years,” Somaia Halawa said.

“He is innocent and yet a sentence has to come back before his release can be pressed for. That’s upsetting.”

She said Irish authorities need to separate her brother’s case from concerns about diplomatic and business connections with Egypt.

There is no reason to believe the Egyptian statement that her brother will finally be sentenced at the end of the month, she added.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said government representatives are working with Mr Halawa’s legal team in Egypt and supporting court petitions when asked to do so.

A spokesperson said formal backing has already been provided for a release application under law 140, by way of a formal diplomatic note sent by Ireland’s Cairo Embassy to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 15th, 2015.

"Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin remain in regular contact with his family and Irish-based lawyers," they said.

"Embassy representatives have attended each of the court hearings to date and will be present at the next scheduled hearing."

Torture

Minister Charlie Flanagan said yesterday that claims Mr Halawa is facing daily torture are being treated seriously.

In a letter published by The Times, the young man described being stripped, beaten and subjected to solitary confinement.

"They shave your head but leave patches of hair so you feel mentally distressed," he wrote.

"They also strip you naked and leave you for everyone to look at you. They torture another prisoner and they make you watch.

"They bury him in garbage and he isn’t allowed to move. Crucify men. They hold a man’s arm against the curb and you hear it break when they kick it."

Mr Flanagan said Irish authorities are committed to providing every possible consular support for the Dublin student. 

"As would be the case for any Irish citizen imprisoned abroad, any suggestion of ill-treatment in this case would be treated with the utmost seriousness," he said.