DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish student Ibrahim Halawa was greeted by cheering crowds at Dublin Airport on Tuesday as he arrived home following his acquittal last month in a four-year mass trial.
Halawa, who was born and raised in Dublin and is a son of the most senior Muslim cleric in Ireland, was 17 when he was arrested along with hundreds of others in 2013 as part of a crackdown on protests in Egypt.
“It still feels like a dream, it’s a moment I’ve waited for for four years. I’m a free man. I’m hoping I can get my life back, get back to college and get my career,” a smiling Halawa, draped in an Irish flag, told reporters upon his arrival home.
Halawa thanked the Irish people, the government and his family for working hard to secure his release. A member of the Irish government, which had lobbied for his return, was among the well-wishers.
Halawa and three of his sisters were charged along with nearly 500 others with crimes including breaking into a mosque, killing 44 people, and illegal possession of firearms in violence that followed the military’s overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, in 2013.
The Halawas said they were on vacation visiting extended family in Egypt and joined a protest against the military’s ouster of Mursi while they were there.
The defendants had all faced the death penalty and though none received it, hundreds were given hefty jail sentences. Halawa’s sisters were released shortly after their arrests.
“This case has been one of the most complex, sensitive and difficult consular cases to which the Irish Government has ever responded. I and all of my colleagues are very pleased Ibrahim’s ordeal is now at an end,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in a statement.
Halawa has said he was regularly tortured during his period in detention. The Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of abuses from rights groups.
“They all claim that (torture) and we have often denied (it took place),” a senior Egyptian interior ministry source said.
“In the end, there is the prosecution and the court, they are decisive. Anyone who experiences assault in jail must report it to the prosecution or the court...and the prisons are all subjected to inspections.”
Reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Patrick Markey in Cairo; Editing by Jon Boyle