British lawyers call on Egypt to release tortured Irish student
August 17, 2016
An eminent group of British lawyers has called on Egypt’s government to release an Irish student who faces the death penalty in a mass trial.
In a report published today, the Bar Human Rights Committee called for “the immediate transfer” of 20-year old Ibrahim Halawa to his home country, Ireland, and said that Egypt’s treatment of him “constitutes a serious breach of international law.”
Ibrahim, a student from Dublin, was among hundreds of people arrested three years ago today in Cairo, as the Egyptian army broke up protests. He faces the death penalty in a mass trial with 493 others, and is being tried in an adult court despite having 17 at the time of his arrest. The proceedings have been repeatedly postponed over three years, during which time Ibrahim has reported frequent torture.
In their report, the BHRC members say they are “gravely concerned” at Egypt’s treatment of Ibrahim. Kirsty Brimelow, QC, chairwoman of the Committee, said that “each of the individual aspects of Ibrahim Halawa’s case” involved a breach of international law by Egypt. She said: “He has been subjected to several years of pre-trial detention, violently assaulted by the Egyptian police and denied access to a lawyer or a fair trial”, and added: “During part of this period, Mr Halawa was a child. [His] urgent release is required.”
International law places strict limits on pre-trial detention. However, the trial of the 494 has been postponed 14 times – most recently on 29 June. At that hearing, the judge postponed the proceedings until 2 October 2016, and indicated that he now plans to consider video evidence for the first time. The video evidence has been available since the start of the trial in September 2013.
Egypt’s system of mass trials has seen thousands of death sentences handed down to protestors, journalists and opposition activists since 2013, and has been condemned by the UN, the US and UK, and Egyptian rights groups.
Last month, the UK Foreign Office said that its “growing concern” over the human rights situation in Egypt had led to a “step-change” in its approach to the country. Ministers said they had recently urged the UN Human Rights Council to pay close attention to Egypt.
Harriet McCulloch – deputy director of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Ibrahim – said:
“Egypt’s treatment of Ibrahim Halawa and many others over the last three years is nothing short of an outrage – he was arrested when he was a child, detained arbitrarily, tortured, and subjected to a mass trial that could see him and hundreds more sentenced to death. The Bar Human Rights Committee is right to call for Ibrahim’s immediate release, and the UK must follow up on its recent statements of concern and do the same. If Egypt’s government is serious about justice, it must free Ibrahim and the many prisoners it is holding unjustly.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
2. The report from the BHRC is available on request.
3. Further detail on Ibrahim’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.