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Minister Flanagan Speech on the case of Ibrahim Halawa

Consular, Minister Charles Flanagan, Press Releases, Middle East and North Africa, 2015


Minister Flanagan Speech for Topical Issues Debate 11 June 2015: Ibrahim Halawa Case  

The Taoiseach and I met Ibrahim Halawa’s father and two of his sisters last week. At that meeting, we were informed that Ibrahim had indicated that he was considering embarking on a hunger strike. Noting that Ibrahim’s welfare was of paramount concern, I advised against this course of action saying it was unlikely to serve any positive purpose in his trial and would, obviously, be detrimental to his health. This view is shared by Ibrahim’s lawyer who has given him similar advice. I am asking Ibrahim to maintain his health by taking food and I am sure that Deputy Smith, you share my view in that regard.

Embassy officials attended the most recent hearing on 3 June, and visited Mr Halawa for the 41st time on Monday 8 June.

During this visit Ibrahim informed the Embassy officials that he had commenced a hunger strike. Embassy officials sought strongly to dissuade him and advised both him and his family that this course of action would be unlikely to serve any positive purpose at all.

As I mentioned, together with the Taoiseach, I met with the Halawa family on 4 June to discuss the case. The family raised the question as to why Ibrahim has not been released when other foreign citizens have been. We explained to the family that the Department is maintaining extensive contacts with the Egyptian authorities and with other international partners who have or had citizens in similar circumstances.

It is important to note that different facts and circumstances apply to each case, and it is unhelpful to make overly simplistic comparisons between them. Insofar as those comparisons are possible, the information that the Department has received from several authoritative sources is very clear.

Examining other similar cases, it is clear that irrespective of any political efforts made by foreign governments including high-level requests, the trial must be completed before any political consideration of a possible release by the Egyptian authorities can take place.

In Ibrahim Halawa’s case the trial is still ongoing. While we continue to maintain extensive contacts with the Egyptian authorities, including at very high levels, the precedent examined to date suggests that it is unrealistic to expect that any release will take place before this initial trial concludes.

In the House earlier today there were incorrect and overly simplistic comparisons made with the case of Peter Greste. Let me be clear - Peter Greste’s trial had finished, he had been convicted and sentenced, and it was only when this initial judicial process had concluded that the Egyptian authorities were in a position to release him. To suggest that he was released solely because the Australian Prime Minister made a phone call is simply wrong and unhelpful to the bona fide efforts to achieve the release of Ibrahim Halawa.

References made in the House earlier to Ireland ‘demanding’ release are not only unhelpful and potentially detrimental to progress, but show a complete lack of understanding of the measured and responsible way that governments must work to resolve difficult consular issues.

That an early release is unlikely is obviously hugely disappointing for Ibrahim Halawa himself and for his family, as it is for all of us involved in working to seek positive progress in this case. However, irrespective of any views regarding the fairness or appropriateness of any arrest abroad, the reality is that where an Irish citizen is charged with an offence under the law of a foreign country, it is the foreign law that applies and it is the relevant foreign court which decides matters such as bail and release.

While we will continue to bring all of our influence to bear on his behalf through the appropriate channels, the decision to release Ibrahim Halawa will ultimately be a decision that is made solely by the Egyptian authorities. Conversely, we in Ireland would not tolerate a foreign Government demanding that a judicial process in the Irish courts be set aside and one of their citizens released.

The considered approach and sustained action that I and my officials have taken in this case has been to work in an appropriate way to try to achieve positive progress. Most importantly we have worked assiduously to avoid any action that could be counterproductive or detrimental to this citizen’s best interests.

Once the court case has been concluded and, assuming a sentence is imposed, it may be appropriate for the Irish Government to make political representations and request the Egyptian authorities to confer a Presidential pardon. At that time, we will need to call upon the goodwill created by a cordial and constructive bilateral relationship between our two countries.

I would like therefore to thank Deputy Smith for the constructive and responsible way that he and many members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs have engaged on this case. Others who adopt a polemical approach may get media headlines but they are not serving the best interests of this Irish citizen.

Press Office
11 June 2015