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Diplomats attacked for accepting Egyptian authorities' word over Ibrahim Halawa

Published 13/04/2016

Ibrahim Halawa was transferred between prisons in recent days
Ibrahim Halawa was transferred between prisons in recent days

Diplomats have been criticised by a leading human rights body for accepting the word of Egyptian authorities over the incarceration of an Irish teenager.

Ibrahim Halawa was transferred between prisons in recent days without the knowledge of embassy staff in Cairo, Department of Foreign Affairs chiefs in Dublin or his family.

He has been held without trial for almost three years and could face the death penalty if convicted of involvement in protests over the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Reprieve, a human rights group which campaigns to stop state executions, said it was increasingly concerned over the 20-year-old's welfare.

Harriet McCulloch, deputy director at the agency, said it was shocking for both the Egyptians to mislead Irish diplomats and for authorities in Dublin not to demand more answers.

"Given recent widespread reports of enforced disappearances and deaths in custody in Egypt, it's shocking that Irish officials appear to have been misled over Ibrahim's whereabouts - and have taken the Egyptian authorities at their unreliable word," she said.

"Ibrahim, who was just 17 when he was arrested, has already suffered an unacceptable ordeal of torture, dire prison conditions, and an unlawful mass trial - which could see him sentenced to death.

"The Irish Government must escalate their demands to see Ibrahim without delay, and must challenge the Egyptian government on his appalling treatment."

Diplomatic chiefs in Dublin insisted Mr Halawa's c ase continues to receive high priority in the department.

A series of meetings have been ordered by Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan amid the controversy, including sending the Irish Ambassador to Egypt Damien Cole for talks in the Egyptian foreign ministry to highlight concerns.

Mr Flanagan will meet the Egyptian ambassador to Ireland Soha Gendi on Thursday.

The department also said officials in the embassy in Cairo are to visit Mr Halawa in jail in the coming days.

Reprieve said it was concerned amid widespread reports of so-called disappearances of prisoners and deaths in Egyptian jails, including in the case of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

The 28-year-old Cambridge student's body was found in a roadside ditch outside Cairo on February 3, more than a week after he disappeared.

Meanwhile, Mr Halawa is understood to have been moved from Tora prison in Cairo to the Wadi el Natrun prison, north of the city, several days ago.

He was 17 when he was detained while taking refuge in a mosque near Cairo's Ramses Square as a "day of rage" was held over the removal of president Mohamed Morsi.

The mass trial he is facing, along with more than 400 others, has been repeatedly postponed since his detention in 2013.

Mr Halawa's detention has been raised in the European Parliament in Brussels and in a letter from leading human rights lawyers in London to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Reprieve said that a report on the death penalty in Egypt last year found that more than 70% of recent death sentences were handed down in relation to protests. The report also detailed the frequency of torture and incommunicado detention in the country's prisons.

Mr Halawa, from Firhouse in Dublin, was initially arrested with three of his sisters.

His lawyers, who were refused access to him until September, said he was denied medical treatment for a gunshot wound to his hand following his arrest and he has been left permanently disfigured as a result.

Somaia Halawa, Ibrahim's sister, said the family's dealings with Irish diplomats had been disappointing on a number of occasions.

She said the department had not informed them of the planned meetings between officials in Dublin or Cairo as the final trial looms in late June in the courthouse beside Wadi el Natrun.

"That is what is making our campaign a bit harder," she said.

"We feel we have two fights with two governments. You feel you are not just having a problem with Egypt but a problem with the Irish Government."

Ms Halawa said she got confirmation of where Ibrahim was being held after another brother, Ahmed, made contact with him.

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