Belfast Telegraph

Irishman freed from Egyptian jail vows to help other prisoners overseas

An innocent Irishman released from an Egyptian jail after four years behind bars has vowed to work for other prisoners overseas.

Ibrahim Halawa was freed late last week, about a month after he was acquitted of all charges related to a mass Muslim Brotherhood protest in Cairo in 2013.

The 21-year-old flew into Dublin Airport for an emotional private reunion with his family before being brought to meet friends and supporters.

And after seeing his mother Amima in a wheelchair, he said his priority was to spend time at home with her.

"I'm going to take some time off, my mom is sick, so I'll be taking some time by her side," Mr Halawa said.

About 150 people gathered in the basement of the arrivals hall in Dublin Airport for an emotionally charged return.

Mr Halawa, from Firhouse in Dublin, had flown back to Ireland with Ambassador to Egypt Sean O'Regan and his sister Nasaybi.

His release from Wadi el Natrun prison in Cairo was initially delayed for several weeks as Egyptian authorities claimed all those convicted or acquitted in a controversial mass trial had to be processed in order.

Mr Halawa's repatriation was further delayed last week after his release as he had to wait for new travel documents.

But flanked by his father, prominent Dublin Muslim cleric Sheikh Hussein Halawa, and waving the Irish Tricolour, Mr Halawa issued passionate messages of thanks to the Irish Government, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, President Michael D Higgins and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney among others.

He also had a special mention for journalist Peter Greste, who was incarcerated with him for more than a year after being detained in the midst of the protests.

And while being swamped by well-wishers, Mr Halawa revealed what was going through his head.

"It still feels like a dream," he said.

"This is a moment I've waited for for four years - a free man, acquired after four years.

"I have left a lot of cellmates behind. There's a lot of innocent people behind bars around the world, not just in Egypt."

Mr Halawa added that his experience of incarceration abroad has made him want to work for Irish prisoners overseas and the homeless.

"Even if they are criminals or if they have been convicted, I'm going to be asking for them to come back to do their time in Ireland," he said.

"I felt how it is to be away from home.

"I was always hoping that the least I could get would be prison at home so at least I could see my family."

Mr Halawa said he had written a large section of a book and wanted to complete it and get his "life straight".

He said that he was looking forward to a plate of fish and chips.

Mr Halawa also praised the work of Irish diplomats and Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan, who has been involved in campaigns for his freedom since the start.

She fought back the tears after embracing the free man.

"He's missed out on four important years. So I think that's going to be difficult for him and he's going to need help to come to terms with that," she said.

Mr Halawa was jailed after being arrested in a mosque amid protests over the removal of the then Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. He was one of almost 500 people in a protracted mass trial.

Three of his sisters, Somaia, Fatima and Omaima, were also arrested during the crackdown on the 2013 protest but were later released on bail and returned to Dublin.

They were acquitted following trial in absentia.

Mr Halawa said he was feeling mixed emotions after touching down in Ireland.

"It's a dream come true," he said.

"Every day in prison I would imagine this day - how it's going to be. It's what made me go forward."

Mr Halawa added: "I'm looking forward to the future but I can't forget the past.

"It's going to make me work harder in the future.

"I feel hurt but I feel happy, obviously, reunited and back home."

Mr Halawa said he did not feel safe after his release from prison last week.

"I'm back into a new world. I was taken away from life and then, one second, you're back. It's going to be hard to recover."

Ireland's Children's Minister Katherine Zappone was one of those to greet Mr Halawa on his arrival home.

"The Government are here to support him every step of the way," she said.

"He and his family are extraordinary. They are inspiring us as a Government and I think also the country."

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