ON THE 17 December, a motion came before the European Parliament to call for the release of Ibrahim Halawa, the only European citizen in prison for protesting in Egypt.
In the days leading up to the vote Egyptian authorities travelled to Strasbourg to lobby MEPS to vote against the motion, they were worried.
Their lobbying came to nothing. In an incredible show of support, parties from the left, right and centre and from every country in Europe voted in favour of calling for Ibrahim to be released immediately.
Support for Ibrahim
In all, 566 MEPs voted in support of Ibrahim and only 11 voted against.
I taught Ibrahim in Rockbrook Park School, a school with a Catholic ethos, but one that welcomes students from all faiths.
In front of me in my classroom today I have students with families from many different countries in Africa, students who are of Indian parentage and students whose parents moved here from eastern Europe and from China.
We have foreign exchange students from Spain and France and of course many students from what many of us would consider ‘traditional’ Irish families.
While you or I may see differences between them, they don’t see those same differences amongst themselves.
Each day they put on the same school uniform, they do the same lessons and they talk about the same things. Although they are all proud of their unique heritage they are also all proud to be Irish, and for both of those reasons it makes me proud to teach them.
Proud to be an Irishman
Ibrahim was exactly like those boys I described. Always proud of his Egyptian heritage but equally proud to be a Dub and an Irishman. He spoke with a Dublin accent and studied Irish just like his peers.
He was the joker of his class and he got on well with his classmates and was treated the same as everybody else. He used to make me laugh but also frustrated me when he would come in without his work done or spend too much time messing with the other lads at the back of the class.
In 2013, whilst on one of his many trips back to visit relatives in Egypt he and his sisters took part in a pro-democracy rally.
They were arrested and Ibrahim has now spent almost two and a half years behind bars. His innocence has been well documented by Amnesty International and he has been made a prisoner of conscience, something that is not done on a whim.
Response from Irish politicians is disappointing
During his unlawful detention I have written to many politicians and the response I have gotten has generally been disappointing.
Many of the replies from government politicians have been the same cut and paste response that the Department of Foreign Affairs releases every time his trial is deferred.
They seem to have agreed a policy of silence around the case and have often tried to silence others by saying that making public comments about it will damage Ibrahim’s case.
Sadly this lack of real comment or engagement from government is leading to people believing false information that has been spreading on social media.
Most reasonable people would be shocked by the vehement hatred and in some cases blatant racism that some people write in the comments section of articles about Ibrahim.
In many cases this is done by internet trolls but also sadly sometimes by members of the public who believe the false information and have bought into the idea that by taking part in a protest Ibrahim somehow deserves to be in the awful conditions he is in.
Reading them is hard for me as somebody who knew him but unbelievably difficult for his sisters and family who must be commended for the dignity with which they have conducted their campaign and the ways they have engaged with some people who have wrote appalling and untrue things about them.
Today, Ibrahim along with 500 other protesters will be lorried to court for the twelth time. it is hard to be optimistic of anything happening other than another postponement.
I would like to see the Irish Government come out and publicly support the fact that Ibrahim is innocent of the charges and to ask for his immediate and unconditional release. This could be done by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny as it has already been done by an overwhelming majority of the European Parliament.
As we move closer to the centenary celebrations of 1916 we will rightly be celebrating the proclamation which will be sent to every school in the country. One line stands out:
“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”
Let’s hope, 100 years later that our government can live up to this aspiration and fight to have Ibrahim returned immediately to his friends and his family in Ireland.
Codie Preston is a science teacher at Rockbrook Park School.