Foreign Office silent on Egypt trade visit as Irish teen faces gallows
March 3, 2015
The government is refusing to reveal which British businesses accompanied it on a recent trade visit to Egypt, as concerns grow for an Irish teenager facing execution alongside 493 others in Cairo.
Forty UK companies are understood to have traveled to Egypt in January with Foreign Office (FCO) minister Tobias Ellwood, in the largest trade delegation to the country in over a decade. In correspondence with human rights organisation Reprieve, the FCO has refused to provide the names of the businesses, claiming it would need to apply a public interest test before revealing the information.
The UK now appears to be involved in a major investment conference organised by the Egyptian government later this month, in the resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh. Last week, Mr Ellwood – set to attend the summit alongside British companies such as BP – joined Mayor Boris Johnson in hosting Egypt’s ministers of investment and finance at a promotional event in London.
Since 2013, a crackdown on dissent by the military government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has seen swathes of protestors, journalists and others detained. Hundreds of people have been handed death sentences in ‘mass trials’ that have drawn condemnation from the UN and rights groups.
Among those facing potential execution is Ibrahim Halawa (19), an Irish teenager arrested at a protest in August 2013. Mr Halawa – who shared a cell with Peter Greste before the Al Jazeera journalist’s release last month – faces trial alongside 493 other people, and is being tried as an adult, despite having been a juvenile at the time of his arrest. He has detailed repeated abuse during his 19-month confinement.
Concerns were raised this week about Mr Halawa’s fate, after it emerged that the Egyptian authorities had begun moving the 494 defendants in his trial to a purpose-built prison complex at Wadi el Natrun, far from Cairo. The prison appears to serve as both a makeshift courthouse and an execution site.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:
“Economic development must go hand-in-hand with respect for human rights – but while the Egyptian government presides over a wave of human rights abuses, the UK’s ‘business as usual’ approach is giving it the imprimatur of approval. This is both inappropriate and untenable. Mass trials and sweeping death sentences for prisoners arrested at peaceful protests – including juveniles, like Ibrahim Halawa – make a mockery of justice, and Britain should not be allowing these abuses to go unchecked. Ministers should use President Sisi’s summit to demand justice for Ibrahim and the many hundreds like him, before it’s too late.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Alice Gillham in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8160
2. Reprieve’s correspondence with the Foreign Office is available on request.