Freedom for Halawa?

There was great unrest in Egypt in August 2013 following the removal from office of President Morsi. Ibrahim Halawa was aged just 17 and had just finished his Leaving Certificate in Dublin. Ibrahim is an Irish citizen, his family having originated from Egypt. He was holidaying with his sisters in their family’s homeland when they partook in a protest, objecting to the impeachment of President Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (the religion of the Halawa family). Ibrahim and his sisters were arrested. His sisters were subsequently released. Now, over 3 years on, 21 year old Ibrahim remains incarcerated in an Egyptian prison.

Over 400 other prisoners arrested with Halawa are also awaiting the mass trial for charges such as murder and attempted murder. The trial has now been postponed 20 times.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has expressed that he was “disappointed and frustrated” by the repeated postponement of the trial and stated

“this is a source of great concern to the Irish Government.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Amnesty International have requested his release on multiple occasions. Amnesty have commented:

“This young Irish citizen has been through a horrific experience. He’s been imprisoned without trial for almost four years and endured 20 trial delays.

A major issue appears to be that even the Egyptian government are powerless in this situation, as they can’t infringe on the jurisdiction of the judicial system and request Mr. Halawas release. Charlie Flanagan discussed Halawa with his Egyptian counterpart who stressed they want the matter resolved but can’t interfere. Dara Murphy TD of Fine Gael has commented that the now President, President Sisi has said he doesn’t have power until the trial has concluded.

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Ibrahim Halawa (Image: Free Ibrahim Halawa Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pg/FreeIbrahimHalawa/photos/?ref=page_internal

TD Gerry Adams commented:

“Ibrahim appeared in court earlier this week in a wheelchair. It is also believed he is suffering greatly as a result of ulceration of the skin due to fly-bites,”

“Ibrahim is very sick. After more than three years, the Egyptian state has failed to produce any evidence against Ibrahim.”

At the time of his arrest, it has been alleged that Halawa was in a Mosque and therefore it has been submitted that he couldn’t have perpetrated the crimes of which he is accused. A review of CCTV of the protest was carried out and no evidence has been found against Halawa.

Darragh O’ Brien TD, a Fianna Fail Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, who this year visited Halawa in prison along with other TDs, has expressed he is ‘hopeful, more than confident that the trial will soon come to a close.

Halawa was previously being detained in a military detention centre which had exceeded capacity and treated brutally. He has since been moved to a low security prison, after the Irish government put pressure on the Egyptians. Ibrahim Halawa is reportedly now on hunger strike and has been hospitalized on occasion due to his deteriorating health status. It has been reported that he is now being sustained by glucose injections.

Ibrahim’s family have repeatedly reached out to the government asking for them to do more and this week fronted a vigil outside Leinster House for him.

Such an atrocity seems an undoubted breach of this young man’s human rights. This of course would not have been the case had Halawa been arrested in Ireland for example, as he could rely on the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to vindicate his fundamental human rights. However, it appears it will continue to be a waiting game, and no progress will be made until his trial has finally taken place. It is scheduled again for 26th April.

(Featured Image: Stock Image – Unsplash)

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What impact will Brexit have on the ECHR?

Unless you have been hiding in the shadows, you will be aware that on the 24th June 2016, the result of Brexit was announced. Britain voted to leave the European Union. It is estimated that if Britain triggers Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union this month, it could be free of the European Union by 2019, but what would that mean for human rights and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)?

The ECHR was drafted by the Council of Europe and currently has 47 Member States, the UK being one such State. The ECHR sets out fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and the prohibition of torture, and ensures these rights are protected by its Member States. The ECHR is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and is a separate entity from the EU. Therefore by leaving the EU, Britain isn’t free of the ECHR.

If Britain wish to opt out of the ECHR, the Human Rights Act 1998 (which partially integrates the ECHR into domestic law) would have to be repealed. There is some domestic law in place protecting human rights in Britain, such as the Bill of Rights 1698 but this afford citizens a weaker protection than the ECHR.

If Britain left both the EU and the ECHR, there arguably could be a void in human rights legislation. They would be erasing long standing precedent on human rights in their jurisdiction. A new British Bill of Rights has been suggested to remedy this problem. However, an unimaginable amount of consideration would have to go in to such legislation, if it were to effectively replace a major framework such as the ECHR. Critics have expressed fears that a Bill of Rights would weaken the rights afforded to citizens.

It has been suggested that following her 2020 election campaign, Prime Minister Theresa May will set the ball rolling for Britain to leave the ECHR. The rights currently conferred under the ECHR would be instead protected under domestic British law and would be enforced by the Supreme Court, rather that the ECtHR in Strasbourg.

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Westminster & the Houses of Parliament                                               Image-Unsplash

May stated:

 “…..my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.”

The ECtHR has been condemned by critics who deem it to hinder nation sovereignty and who are frustrated with it for preventing Member States from deporting terrorists and people who pose a threat to them. They are of the belief that it has too much power in governing domestic policy. The Prime Minister was at odds with the ECtHR when she was acting as Home Secretary when it prevented her deporting the radical cleric, Abu Qatada.

Supporters of the ECtHR recognised the vast work the Court have done in recognising the rights of people and especially of marginalized groups within society. Such groups believe that withdrawing from the ECHR would have a significant impact on Britain’s international footing.

It is worth considering that the ECHR was also a major element of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. Withdrawing from the Convention would undoubtedly cause controversy.

Alternatively, once Britain has cut ties with the EU and if it chooses not to repeal the Human Rights Act,  they will continue to be governed by the ECHR which is arguably a safer and more robust option.

What do you think is the best option for Human Rights in Britain? IS the best option to withdraw from the ECHR or is remaining in it a safer option? Let me know in the comments.

Featured Image: Pixabay – https://pixabay.com/en/brexit-exit-united-kingdom-england-1481028/