Thursday 27 October 2016

'I can't interfere', says Taoiseach as Ibrahim begins hunger strike

Ibrahim Halawa
Ibrahim Halawa

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has said he cannot interfere in Egypt’s legal system as it emerged that Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa has gone on hunger strike.

Mr Kenny said he is “very conscious” of the teenager’s case, but added that the legal process in Egypt must be respected.

“I have to be very careful not to say anything or do anything that would make that situation worse,” he said.

The Taoiseach made his remarks after the Halawa case was raised in the Dail.

Last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it had “strongly attempted to dissuade Ibrahim from his hunger strike and advised both him and his family that such a course of action was unlikely to serve any positive purpose and could in fact be damaging, not only to his health but to achieving progress in his case.

“This advice to Ibrahim and his family was echoed by his lawyer,” a spokesman said.

Tanaiste Joan Burton defended the Government’s diplomatic efforts to secure the 19-year-old’s release.

She urged the Egyptian

authorities to examine the prospect of making bail available to Ibrahim, who has spent nearly two years in prison.

The issue of his detention was raised by Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald during Leaders’ Questions after it emerged that he has gone on hunger strike.

Ibrahim was detained during a protest in the Egyptian capital in August 2013. An eighth court date for his trial has been set for the beginning of August.

His family have said they are desperately concerned for his well-being.

Ms McDonald accused the Government of failing to do enough to secure the teenager’s release.

“Ibrahim’s mother visits him every week. She has no contact on those visits. She sees her son behind wires, she can’t comfort him, console him, give him a hug,” said the Dublin Central TD.

“Every morning when he wakes up he hears the screams of people being tortured. He himself has been beaten and the Irish consul in Egypt has witnessed his injuries. He has been denied medical attention.

“If convicted, Ibrahim faces the very real prospect of life imprisonment. Amnesty International has established beyond any doubt that Ibrahim Halawa is a prisoner of conscience. They firmly believe he has been detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly.”

Ms Burton said officials have made contact with Ibrahim on 140 occasions and efforts are continuing.

Ibrahim’s family have expressed increasing concern  after receiving a letter detailing his fears of torture and abuse at the prison.

The letter says he is on hunger strike and intends to continue until he is allowed to return home.

Originally from Firhouse, Co Dublin, he is on trial with 420 others after protesting outside the Fatah mosque in central Cairo in 2013.

The protesters had gathered to express their discontent over the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi.

In his letter, Ibrahim described brutal conditions in which he is forced to cram into a 10-person cell with about 40 others. He said he wakes up to noises of torture, fearing he will “be next”.

“Where are my human rights when I have been thrown in prison for two years with no evidence?” he wrote. “Where is the human right when I don’t see the light of the sun?”

He also detailed his fears of the officers in the prison who hit him “for every word they don’t like”.

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