Letter from Peter Greste regarding the need for the Irish Government to intervene in Halawa Case

The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently standing by its statement that Law 140 should not be used to free Ibrahim Halawa from prison in Eygpt. Ibrahim’s solicitors have said that Law 140 can be used to free the young Irish man and has already been used to free Australian Peter Greste, who was Ibrahim’s former cell-mate. Below is a letter I have received from Peter Greste reiterating that the decree explicitly gives President Sisi the authority to remove a foreign national “to complete the judicial process” in his country of origin and could be used for Ibrahim as it was for him.

“Dear Senator Daly,

I am writing to you in your capacity as a member of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee out of concern for my former cellmate and Irish national Ibrahim Halawa. I understand that your committee has been looking into Ibrahim’s case, and that you have called on the Egyptian Ambassador to appear next Thursday.

I am one of the three Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt throughout 2014 on terrorism charges before I was released on February 1 last year. Throughout much of that time, I shared a cell with Ibrahim in Cairo’s infamous Tora prison.

Until recently, I have refrained from speaking about the case, largely because I was concerned that having a convicted terrorist publicly supporting an accused terrorist would only confirm the Egyptian government’s conspiracy theories and probably make life more difficult for Ibrahim. But I have also become increasingly alarmed as the trial and the efforts to have him freed have dragged on without success, and I now feel compelled to get personally involved.

I know there has been much public debate in Ireland around Ibrahim’s motives and his family’s background, and there are two things I’d like to say in this regard. Firstly, although I wasn’t in Rabaa Square when Ibrahim was arrested, everything I learned about him in prison suggests that while he might be an idealistic young man with strong political ideas, he is in no way a violent “terrorist”, much less a threat to any society, and I saw nothing to substantiate any of the allegations against him. Secondly – and more importantly – his ethnic origins have obscured the far more important need to address the way Ibrahim’s most basic rights as an Irish and European citizen have been denied.

My own experience of Egypt’s judicial system shows that it is highly politicised, and in no way can it be relied upon to deliver anything like a fair trial. The same is true of Ibrahim’s mass trial. With that in mind, I would like to draw your attention to the following points:

* As you know, he is just one of more than 400 defendants – a situation which makes it impossible for each of them to adequately mount a defense.

* He has been in prison for more than three years – longer than the sentence handed down in my own retrial – with no evidence that he was doing anything other than exercising his constitutional right to free speech.

* He has been held in conditions that are far worse than any internationally accepted standards for prisoners.

* While there may be no corroborating evidence that he has been tortured, there is every reason to believe he has suffered enormously and unjustly during his time behind bars. In the absence of any other evidence, we should take his letters from prison as legitimate complaints regarding his conditions and treatment.

* He was imprisoned while he was a minor, and yet throughout he has been treated as if he is an adult.

I would urge you to press these points to the Egyptian Ambassador in the strongest terms possible, when she appears before your committee.

In addition, given that Ibrahim is one of thousands of people who Amnesty International rightly considers to be “prisoners of conscience”, his case ought to be seen as representative of a much wider problem of human rights, democracy and freedom of speech in Egypt. In that regard, he deserves far more attention than diplomats have given him so far.

I would also ask you to use very lever at the Irish Government’s disposal to put pressure on the Egyptian authorities to release Ibrahim. I note that Ireland is an active and influential member of the European Union, and should use that influence to bring the diplomatic, political and economic weight of the EU to bear on this case.

Finally, as you know I was removed from Egypt under the so-called “Decree 140”. I am aware that the Egyptian authorities have claimed they need to allow the judicial process to take its course before they can act. While that argument might have some political merit, the decree explicitly gives President Sisi the authority to remove a foreign national “to complete the judicial process” in his country of origin. That may be problematic in terms of Ireland’s domestic law, as it was in Australia, but my lawyers assisted the Australian government in drafting a diplomatic note that offered a solution to the problem. I know they would be happy to assist your government if you need any further advice or support.

If there is any way I can assist your committee or the Irish Government, I would be happy to help. I believe Ibrahim’s case is both urgent and important, and justifies all the attention you can devote to it.

Kind regards

Peter Greste”

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