The Irish government has stated it will send an independent medical expert to assess the health of Irish-Egyptian political detainee Ibrahim Halawa, who has been imprisoned in Egypt since August 2013, according to a report by the Irish Times.
Twenty-one-year-old Halawa began a hunger strike in January in protest of his imprisonment. Last week, Halawa’s family announced that his medical condition has continued to deteriorate severely, with lawyers stating that his condition is so weak that he now has to use a wheelchair.
Halawa’s family is also concerned that Halawa is at risk of contracting leishmaniasis, a disease that recently broke out in Egypt’s notorious Wadi al-Natrun Prison, where Halawa is being held. Detainee Ahmed al-Khateeb, also incarcerated at the facility, was diagnosed with the rare infection last week.
Halawa was arrested with his three sisters, Somaya, Fatma and Omayma, in Cairo in August 17, 2013, during mass protests organized by the Muslim Brotherhood contesting the ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. His three sisters have been released, while Halawa, who was 17 at the time, remained in detention. He faces accusations of illegal protesting, violence and attacking police, which could result in the death penalty.
Ireland’s Minister of Children Katherine Zappone stated that the Irish government has discussed Halawa’s condition and requested the chief medical officer to nominate an independent medical expert to assess his health condition. Zappone explained that the medical convoy will be sent “as a matter of extreme urgency,” adding that she will facilitate a meeting between Halawa’s family and government official to review the way forward to securing his freedom.
Halawa’s family has demanded the Irish government to take stronger measures against the Egyptian government, calling for Ireland to begin legal proceedings against Egypt at the International Court of Justice. Enda Kenny, president of Ireland, said he is “disturbed” by reports of Halawa’s condition, adding that he wants to assess his health through “an Irish medical point of view.”
Cairo Criminal Court decided on Wednesday to postpone Halawa’s case, which includes more than 490 defendants, for the 20th time in almost 4 years. Nosayba Halawa, the detainee’s sister, said on Facebook that the judge declined a request by his lawyer to release him given his critical condition, and also rejected a request by Halawa to speak to the panel of judges during the court session.
A delegation from the Irish parliament visited Halawa in January, before meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Irish lawmaker Paul Murphy, who was part of the delegation, told Mada Masr earlier that Sisi refused requests to free Halawa before a ruling is reached in his case.
“If I had the power to, I would free Ibrahim Halawa,” Sisi told the delegation, referring to the possibility of issuing a presidential pardon once the judiciary issues a verdict.
Murphy explained that Halawa has never been issued an Egyptian passport, as he is Dublin-born, and “signed earlier to withdraw his Egyptian nationality which makes his deportation possible,” through a 2015 presidential decree allowing for the deportation foreign nationals implicated in crimes in Egypt.
Ireland’s Parliament previously issued a motion in July 2016 calling on Egyptian authorities to release Halawa. However, Egyptian PMs subsequently denounced the Irish parliamentary vote, referring to it as an intervention in the affairs of Egypt and its judiciary.
International rights organizations Amnesty International and Reprieve have called for the release of Halawa, along with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the European Parliament, and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
According to investigations conducted by Amnesty International, Halawa is “a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly.”