In my address to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade last week I condemned the severe sentences imposed by a court in Cairo on 23 June on a number of Al Jazeera journalists for essentially doing no more than their job.
I share the widespread international concern over this verdict, which amounts to the criminalisation of the legitimate activities of a free press. This verdict represents an unacceptable restriction on freedom of expression and fundamentally undermines the credibility of the Egyptian judicial system.
There has been widespread international criticism of the verdict in this latest case, including by UNSG Ban, who warned that they could undermine Egypt’s stability. The UN Human Right Commissioner, Navi Pillay, expressed her shock and alarm at the verdicts which she pointed out were rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law.
The issue was also discussed briefly at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg which I attended on 23 June. High Representative Ashton issued a statement after the meeting on behalf of the EU expressing the concern of the Council about the verdicts as well as about the death sentences imposed against more than 180 people following the recent well-publicised trial in Minya, Upper Egypt.
The Government has been active in conveying its concerns generally over the current trends in relation to observance of human rights in Egypt. I have made clear in reply to earlier questions in this House my strong concerns over the recent mass sentencing of individuals to the death penalty in two trials in Minya, Upper Egypt. These concerns have been conveyed directly to the Egyptian authorities, most recently by senior officials in my Department at a meeting with the Egyptian Embassy earlier this week which also relayed my concerns over the recent Al Jazeera verdicts as well as the continued detention of Ibrahim Halawa. Our Embassy in Cairo has also regularly raised these and other human rights issues with the Egyptian authorities . High Representative Ashton also met with the then Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, last March to convey the EU’s strong concerns about the conduct of the Minya trials.
Ireland also co-sponsored a cross-regional statement on the human rights situation in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council in March. The need for the Egyptian authorities to start vindicating the human rights provisions contained in Egypt’s new constitution will continue to be clearly communicated in our ongoing contacts with the Egyptian authorities, both here and through our Embassy in Cairo.
In relation to the case of Ibrahim Halawa, I answered a parliamentary question last week setting out in detail each of the interventions which Ireland has made, at both Ministerial and diplomatic level, to represent our deep concerns over his detention and continued imprisonment, as well as the lack of clarity surrounding the charges he is facing. We have repeatedly stressed to the Egyptian authorities that due process must be afforded to Mr. Halawa, and that they must ensure that his basic human right to a fair trial is upheld. As I indicate above, further representations have been made since then. We regard his well-being and the upholding of his rights as a matter of extreme gravity and will continue to make clear our position to the Egyptian authorities at every opportunity.