Senator Daly: I move:
That the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade requests the Taoiseach to contact the President of Egypt in relation to Ibrahim Halawa’s case.
I welcome the Minister’s letter.
It is comprehensive. He raised many issues in it which appear to contradict what other governments have successfully done to achieve the release of their citizens abroad. I note previous correspondence from the Department in which it states that its primary concern is his treatment while in prison. I believe its primary concern should be his release, not his treatment in prison. In his letter the Minister mentioned his treatment in prison. We know from his cell mate, an Australian citizen who was released, that he did not receive any treatment after being shot in the hand during his arrest. His treatment was carried out by an inmate, which has now left him with a disability. When the Egyptian authorities say he is being treated appropriately, that must be questioned.
The reports regarding whether he is in a death row cell are not from the Egyptian authorities but from Amnesty International, which has confirmed that until very recently he was in a death row cell. I am glad he has been moved, if that is true. However, that is psychological torture. Written on the walls of those cells are the last messages of people who were condemned to die. We must remember that is the fate facing Ibrahim Halawa. He is one of 426 prisoners who could face a death sentence.
I note the reference in the letter to quiet diplomacy. He has been in jail for 600 days, so the days for quiet diplomacy are over and should cease. Let us look at what has worked in other countries. I have distributed some media reports of what the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, did to seek the release of Australian journalist Peter Greste. He had a meeting with President al-Sisi when they were attending the United Nations heads of state meeting. Mr. Abbott was public about those meetings. Even President Obama spoke up on behalf of this Australian citizen. An ABC News report referred to how the release of this Australian citizen was carried out by presidential decree, something that is also open to Ibrahim Halawa as an Irish born citizen. However, our Government has not engaged at the highest level. I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, about this case. Obviously the Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Australia and Canada were involved. In one instance 19 calls were made in two weeks by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, personally raised the case of a Canadian national with the President of Egypt.
The Irish Timesreported on 29 March that the case has been adjourned again until April. The days of quiet diplomacy are finished. The Egyptian Government must be made aware of how seriously the Irish people view this case. Amnesty International has reported that he has no case to answer and is innocent of all charges. If the President of Egypt wishes, he can be released by presidential decree tomorrow. Somebody must simply ask. We do not want him to be treated well while in prison; we want him out of prison. That is the reason we are putting forward this motion calling on the Taoiseach to contact his counterpart in Egypt on behalf of this Irish born citizen and seek his release. We are supportive of everything the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have done. They have briefed us. However, if the President of Egypt does not wish to release our citizen, whom Amnesty International has said is innocent of all charges, we should look to the European Union to impose trade sanctions on Egypt. That would show we are serious and that we will not sit quietly on our hands while this young Irish citizen is in jail.
Senator Daly: In the case of the Canadian and Australian nationals, it was the Prime Ministers’ telephone calls and meetings with President el-Sisi that secured their release, nothing else. There was nothing from their departments of foreign affairs or their Ministers for foreign affairs. It was the direct intervention that worked. We welcome all the work the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the officials and the ambassador in Egypt have done, but in the case we are referring to, it has been proven that it was only the direct intervention of the Prime Ministers of the countries concerned that secured the release of those citizens. That is why we are asking our members to support them. There are 426 people on trial. The chances of a mass trial being fair to this Irish citizen is, to put it mildly, limited. Amnesty International has said he has no case to answer.
Reference was made to it being improper to interfere but the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia interfered, if that is the correct word – I would call it intervening on behalf of their citizens – and they were successful. We must not say we are doing everything possible because everything possible includes the Taoiseach getting involved. Nowhere in that letter did they say that they might get the Taoiseach involved. They are saying they are doing their bit. It did not work for the Canadians until the Prime Minister got involved. That is why we are asking for the Taoiseach to get involved in this particular case in order that President el-Sisi can do what he did for everyone else.
Senator Daly: I suggest that we revisit the motion and that we write to the Taoiseach to ask him to examine what other jurisdictions have done to secure the release of their citizens and to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to keep him briefed on a daily basis on the case. On 26 April, the motion will be put to a vote, if needs be.