08/07/15 Senator Daly Speaks on Foreign Affairs Issues and the Ibrahim Halawi case

Senator Daly: I thank the Minister for his comprehensive presentation. I share the concerns expressed about the Bedouin village in the Occupied Territories. I am pleased to have received a note on the issue from the Department. When we discussed the matter in the Seanad, I emphasised that this was a classic example of the policy of eviction, dispossession and demolition that was being relentlessly pursued as part of the Israeli occupation. In many cases, albeit not all, its purpose is to allow for the expansion of Israeli settlements. I am glad that the Department has put this in writing. We have tabled a motion asking the Minister to contact his Israeli counterpart about the issue and to write to the Israeli military’s chief-of-staff to oppose the measure. There is no point in the joint committee discussing the issue if we do not let the Israelis know what the Irish point of view is. While our view may not be shared by the rest of the European Union, we should not to worry about it acting in unison as it takes some time for it to do anything in unison.

The Government has taken a very important case involving the United Kingdom’s treatment of the so-called hooded men to the European court. The Minister has spoken about this issue. Will he outline the current position in the case and when he expects a determination to be made? The case is about more than the 14 men involved. In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg overturned a previous decision in the men’s case and this decision was interpreted aggressively by the former US President George Bush, to use his description. As a result, countries that we consider to be democracies are using the 1978 ruling on the so-called five techniques – subjecting prisoners to noise, depriving them of sleep, food and fluid and using stress positions – as grounds for permitting torture. It is incumbent on Ireland to ensure this decision is overturned.

Despite the significant improvement in relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom, the British Government has not handed over the files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I am not sure if the Government has formally requested the files. The files on the Birmingham Six will remain sealed and unavailable to the general public until 2069. What are the British authorities hiding in these files? Anne Cadwallader’s excellent book, Lethal Allies, shows the collusion in which the British state engaged and the murder gangs it had in operation.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply on the case of Ibrahim Halawi. Concerns have been raised about the torture of Mr. Halawi and the Irish ambassador to Egypt saw bruising on his back which had been caused in beatings received in prison. Doughty Street Chambers and Amal Clooney which are involved in the case have written an opinion on the torture to which Mr. Halawi has been subjected. Ms Clooney is also involved in the hooded men case which, in some senses, brings me full circle. Reprieve, a human rights organisation, has also concluded that Mr. Halawi has been subject to torture and has listed some of the things done to him. They include the use of whips, chains, blindfolds and electric shocks, the denial of medical treatment, psychological torture by prison guards, being held in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions and solitary confinement, the provision of inadequate food and the denial of access to a lawyer. The Taoiseach recently stated in the Dáil that Mr. Halawi was facing lesser charges. Mr. Halawi’s legal team has confirmed to me that he is still facing the death sentence and that the charges against him have not been reduced. The Taoiseach’s statement was tantamount to misleading the Dáil.

—-Later—-

Senator Daly: It is from the only legal team he has got. Could we get some clarification on this, because it is an important issue? If he faces lesser charges, the Egyptian court should have released him last February, because a person can only be held in detention for 18 months. Therefore, we would be quite within our rights to ask for him to be released on bail. However, if he still faces the death penalty, the more important issue of the presidential decree comes into play.

We had various briefings from the Department of Foreign Affairs about Peter Greste, and his case is the precedent we have focused on. His trial had finished and he had been convicted and sentenced. It was only when that initial judicial process had been concluded that the Egyptian authorities were in a position to release him, according to the briefing note we got from the Department. That is technically misleading. The Doughty Street Chambers’ opinion, which has been received by the Department, states that when applied in practice, law 140 supports the conclusion that the final judgment is not required prior to transfer. The Australian journalist Peter Greste, who for a time shared a cell with Ibrahim Halawa, was transferred to Australia pursuant to the decree. He had been convicted in 2014 on charges of falsifying news reports.

—-Later—-

Senator Daly: On 1 January, the Egyptian court set aside the conviction and ordered a retrial of the charges and Mr. Greste was then transferred to Australia. Mr. Greste was in the same position as Ibrahim is today. The conviction had been set aside and he was now awaiting a retrial. Ibrahim Halawa is in the same position today.

There are many UN and international procedures we could pursue, such as the International Court of Justice in this case. Are we going to pursue this issue through the UN conventions regarding a fair trial, the rights of the child and freedom from torture conventions Egypt is part of? I believe we are all agreed that we want the same result. I am concerned with what works. I know that when the Prime Ministers of Australia and Canada became involved, that worked. It is simple to see it worked, because we see that in the newspapers and their citizens are now on bail or have been transferred back to their home countries.

There are important issues in regard to the charges Ibrahim Halawa faces now and as to whether he is in the same position today as Peter Greste was when he benefited from the presidential decree. There is significant information and misinformation out there. We need to get the situation clarified because Ibrahim is now approaching his 700th day in prison. This is unacceptable for an Irish citizen, who was a child of 17 when arrested. We need to do all we can to get him released. I appreciate the efforts made by the Minister to date to get him released.

Minister Flannagan: In respect of the charges and as in any court case, we are reliant on the information given to us by the lawyers. They are the local legal advisers. They are the closest to the proceedings. They are involved on a daily basis in the subject matter of the detail of this case. Notwithstanding that, we have been circumspect in public references to the charges, as this is a serious situation for all Irish citizens, particularly the one who is facing the charges. This is not an issue that we have treated in anything less than the most serious way. We want to make a positive progression leading to a positive outcome.

I will make a further brief point. Senator Daly was incorrect to state that Peter Greste was in the same position as Ibrahim Halawa is today. I have stated this on the record of the Dáil and this committee. Unfortunately, it does not suit some people to read the situation as is. Regarding the presidential decree, Ibrahim Halawa is facing charges and is on trial, but the trial has not yet been concluded in the manner that we would all like. He is in the process of a court case. Peter Greste’s initial trial had been completed, as admitted by Senator Daly, and his retrial had yet to start. He was not in the course of court proceedings. A conviction had been obtained by the court and a sentence had been handed down by it. This fundamental difference is of importance in the context of what we are discussing. The presidential decree and its terms will not be applied when an individual is in the course of a court process. Through the Chair, I ask Senator Daly to retract his statement that the Department was misleading people. It was not and it does not. My officials have given a considerable level of commitment. I resent having their professionalism called into question, given the fact that there have been 42 consular visits. These will continue until this matter is disposed of, as we are anxious to ensure the welfare and return home of Ibrahim Halawa.

It has been claimed that this is a matter of lifting the telephone. I have heard it stated that if certain senior politicians lifted the telephone, Ibrahim would be immediately sprung from prison. That is an overly simplistic view of the process. The Egyptian authorities will make the decision and we will work towards that.

Senator Daly: I thank the Minister for his reply. We are all working for the same objective. I know we are focusing on the Peter Greste case to use as a mechanism but that original trial was set aside. I would prefer if the Minister were representing Ibrahim Halawa by having a presence there. Peter Greste’s conviction was set aside and a retrial arranged while he was still in prison, therefore, he was in the same position as Ibrahim is today. Of course, that is where lawyers come into play but my understanding is that it has been communicated that he is still facing the serious charges.

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