The mass trial of 494 individuals, including Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, has been postponed for the ninth time. It has been rescheduled to 15 December.
The 19-year-old Halawa was arrested in August 2013 during protests in support of former president Mohamed Morsi at the Al-Fatah Mosque in Cairo’s Ramses area. He is currently detained alongside 493 other defendants on charges of murder and attempted murder for their alleged role in violence at the protests.
This 10th hearing arrived not long after the infamous Al Jazeera journalists received pardons from the office of the presidency. Halawa had shared a prison cell with the journalists for some time. Halawa, from Dublin, was a juvenile when he was arrested in August 2013 at a protest in the days of turmoil following the ouster of Morsi.
He has since been held in a series of adult prisons, where he reports that torture and other mistreatment is common. He is being tried as an adult in the mass trial, in contravention of Egyptian and international law, campaign group Reprieve have said, and faces the death penalty if convicted. Halawa entered a hunger strike in June for the second time during his nearly two-year-long detention, despite worsening health conditions. It is unknown whether he remains on hunger strike.
At the time of his arrest, there was an exchange of fire between security forces and others at the outer areas of the Al-Fatah Mosque, after which security forces arrested protesters en masse. During the protest, in which at least 97 people died, Halawa was taking refuge with his three sisters in Al-Fatah Mosque.
They were all arrested, but his sisters were later released. However, Amnesty International said that its research on the incident proves it was 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.
The controversial mass trial is one of several in Egypt that have been condemned by the UN, the US, the UK and others since President Al-Sisi’s government began a crackdown on protests in 2013. Hundreds of death sentences have been handed down to journalists, activists and others, while concerns have been raised regarding the fairness of trial proceedings.
Speaking on Friday ahead of the tenth hearing, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, Maya Foa, said: “The ordeal of Ibrahim Halawa and his hundreds of co-defendants has gone on long enough. It is disgraceful that this ‘mass trial’ continues, and that the defendants face the death penalty for their mere attendance at a protest. Ibrahim and the other prisoners are also being horribly mistreated in prison, as they wait for any sort of justice to emerge from these Kafkaesque trial proceedings. Ibrahim has committed no crime, and this trial makes a mockery of justice – the Irish government, and other close allies of Egypt, such as the UK, must call urgently for his release.”
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. Prime Minster Enda Kenny also said: “I cannot interfere in the Egyptian legal system.”