Delegates at Egypt conference urged to raise human rights, amid concerns for Irish teen

March 13, 2015

Image of Ibrahim Halawa

Political and business leaders attending a major trade conference in Sharm el Sheikh today have been urged to raise the importance of human rights in Egypt, including a halt to sweeping death sentences for people arrested at protests.

Egypt’s government is hosting the three-day Egypt Economic Development Conference in a bid to win back foreign investment and political support, following a crackdown on human rights since President Abdelfattah al Sisi took power in 2013. In a recent interview, President Sisi said he intended to persuade “the entire West [to] stand by Egypt”, and suggested that protestors were part of a “threat.” Among those attending today are US Secretary of State John Kerry and UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, while guest speakers include the head of BP, GE, the European Investment Bank, and a former UK Foreign Office (FCO) Minister.

International human rights organization Reprieve has written to the guest speakers at today’s event and the UK government, asking them to raise concerns over the use of mass death sentences for protestors such as Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa. Mr Halawa, from Dublin, was 17 when he was arrested in 2013, and faces a death sentence if convicted in a ‘mass trial’ of 494 people later this month. Mr Halawa, who shared a cell with the Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, has endured repeated abuse throughout his detention, and is being tried as an adult, in contravention of Egyptian and international law.

Another prisoner facing mass trial over a 2013 protest, US citizen Mohamed Soltan, appeared in court this week looking weak and pale following a 406-day hunger strike in protest at his confinement.

In recent correspondence with Reprieve, UK Foreign Minister Tobias Ellwood revealed that UK officials in Egypt were “monitoring” Mr Halawa’s case, while yesterday an FCO report revealed the UK’s concerns with what it called the “poor” human rights situation in the country. Concerns have been raised, however, over a lack of transparency about the resurgence of UK trade with Egypt. Last week, it emerged the UK was refusing to reveal which companies accompanied it on a recent trade delegation to Egypt, which was promoted as the largest such mission in a generation.

Maya Foa, the head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Despite President Sisi’s ‘business as usual’ rhetoric, the reality is that child arrests, mass trials and sweeping death sentences are still the hallmark of his government. Economic cooperation with Egypt must go hand-in-hand with an end to the current wave of repression, and the international community – including the business leaders attending this conference – must make that abundantly clear.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8160

2. President Sisi’s comments were made in an interview with Der Spiegel, which can be read here.

3. For more information about Ibrahim Halawa’s case, see here.