The trial of an Irish teenager who has been detained for over 700 days without trial was postponed Sunday, for the eighth time. It has been rescheduled to 4 October.
The 19-year-old, Ibrahim Halawa, was arrested in August 2013 during protests in support of former president Mohamed Morsi at the Al-Fateh Mosque in Cairo’s Ramses area. He has been detained alongside 493 other defendants, who face mass trial on charges of murder and attempted murder for their alleged role in violence at the protests.
Halawa entered a hunger strike in June for the second time during his nearly two-year-long detention, despite worsening health conditions, although it is unknown if he remains on hunger strike.
Since his arrest, he has been held in pre-trial detention, a controversial process in the Egyptian legal system. It has been frequently criticised by rights group as a tool to pressure anti-government activists to confess to alleged crimes.
Lawyer Mokhtar Mounir, who works with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), previously told Daily News Egypt: “After the latest legislative amendments passed by the cabinet, now the number of days in which a person can be held in detention before a trial is unlimited, which is unconstitutional.”
At the time of his arrest during the protest, there was an exchange of fire between security forces and others at the outer areas of the mosque, after which security forces mass arrested protesters. During the protest, in which at least 97 people died, Halawa was taking refuge with his three sisters in Al-Fateh mosque – they were all arrested, but his sisters were later released.
However, Amnesty International holds that the research they undertook proves it would be impossible that many of the arrested protesters could have fired at security forces, as they were locked inside an inner part of the mosque.
The international rights group claims that, of the over 100 witnesses due to be called in the trial, the majority are police officers or government officials. Halawa’s legal representatives, London-based law firm Doughty Street Chambers, have said that there is no evidence to link Halawa to any of the crimes he is accused of.
In recent comments to the Irish press, Egypt’s ambassador to Ireland said that the government cannot intervene while the case is before the courts, due to separation of powers. He added that after the trial, there may be “room” for talking about the teenager’s return depending on the nature of the final charges.
In June, the Irish Foreign Ministry said it is seeking to acquire a presidential pardon for Halawa, but only after the trial ends, with Prime Minster Enda Kenny saying: “I cannot interfere in the Egyptian legal system.”
In April, Irish Foreign Minister Charles Flanagan took up Halawa’s case with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry on the sidelines of a United Nations conference in New York. The meeting between the two ministers came a day after the young Irishman was refused bail, with Flanagan expressing his “disappointment” to Shoukry over the refusal.
Halawa has been designated a ‘prisoner of conscience’ by Amnesty International, who warns that, if convicted, he could face the death penalty. They have also highlighted the worrying mental effects on the 19-year-old, who is believed to be held in the same area as prisoners sentenced to death in Tora Prison. His family have called on the Irish government to put more pressure on Egyptian authorities.