herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Andrew Lynch: If Enda really cares about Ibrahim Halawa, it's time to kick up a fuss

ibrahim halawa
ibrahim halawa

A few weeks ago, Ibrahim Halawa managed to smuggle a drawing out of his prison cell. It depicts a gormless-looking Irish official being assured by his Egyptian counterpart that the Dublin teenager can expect a fair trial from "the best judicial system in the world".

Perhaps it is just a coincidence - but the man wearing a green, white and orange hat bears more than a passing resemblance to Enda Kenny.

Today, Ibrahim's feelings towards the Taoiseach are unlikely to be any warmer. Last Sunday, his trial was adjourned for the sixth time, over 600 days since he was arrested for taking part in a Cairo street protest.

The young Firhouse man remains trapped in legal limbo, potentially facing execution by hanging - and clearly convinced that our Government is not exactly pulling out all the stops to rescue him.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan insists this is not true. Yesterday he met his Egyptian equivalent in New York and once again called for Ibrahim to be released as soon as possible.

That is all very well, but the Government has been issuing pious statements for more than a year and a half now with no results - so surely the time has come for a tougher approach.

Ibrahim was born in the Coombe Hospital. He has lived in this country all his life. He plays GAA and can speak the Irish language.

In 2013, shortly after doing the Leaving Cert, Ibrahim went to Egypt with his family for the summer. He and his three sisters became involved in a demonstration against the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi that turned violent.

When security officials started firing, he retreated to a mosque and was later detained by the police.

Ibrahim is now facing charges of murder, attempted murder and taking part in an illegal protest. If the Egyptian authorities have any convincing evidence for these allegations, they have so far kept it to themselves.

torture

Amnesty International certainly has no doubt about his innocence, with its Irish director Colm O'Gorman stating: "It was a cut and paste charge applied to hundreds of other people. He is being detained purely for exercising his freedom of expression."

In a country that is not exactly famous for treating political dissidents with kid gloves, Ibrahim's prison conditions can only be guessed at.

He was recently transferred to the notorious Wadi al Natrun jail outside Cairo, where several inmates are known to have died from torture.

According to his sisters, he has been stripped naked and beaten with a metal chain, forced to shave off his beard and kept in a cell for prisoners facing the death penalty.

Ibrahim is now 19-years-old. Most people of his age are starting their careers, enjoying an active social life and getting involved in their first serious relationships.

Instead, his precious teenage years look like ending in terror and despair.

Ibrahim has claimed that our Government would be doing more to help him if he had an Irish name or was white. The Department of Foreign Affairs totally denies this and they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

At the same time, Ibrahim is obviously a frightened young man - and nobody should judge him too harshly.

So what should Ireland actually be doing? For a start, we could use the organ grinder instead of his monkey. Charlie Flanagan can plead as much as he likes - but experience shows that the Egyptian regime only sits up and takes notice when a head of government enters the fray.

In the last few months, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper have personally lobbied Egypt's president for the release or bail of their citizens. Both were successful.

Enda Kenny, however, will only say that he is "across the situation" and "concerned" - which hardly seems likely to leave the Cairo authorities quaking in their boots.

Ibrahim Halawa is by no means the first Irishman to be jailed abroad for a crime he did not commit. Unlike the Birmingham Six or Guildford Four, however, he could end up paying the ultimate price - which is why our Taoiseach must do everything humanly possible to bring him home.

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