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Egypt acquits Irish citizen held for four years for 'terrorism'

Ibrahim Halawa expected to be freed in coming days after spending four years in prison for taking part in anti-Sisi protests
Halawa has spent four years in prison in Egypt (supplied)

Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted of all charges after spending four years in jail in Egypt. 

He was picked up by Egyptian police aged 17 in 2013 along with his three sisters during protests against the army's overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi.

While his sisters were released on bail a month after their arrest, Halawa remained in prison. 

Halawa was tried as an adult alongside 493 other people, despite being a juvenile at the time of this arrest.

They were all charged with, among other crimes, breaking into a mosque, killing 44 people, including a policeman, and illegal possession of firearms in violence that followed the military's overthrow of Morsi.

His trial had been adjourned 25 times and he faced the death penalty if found guilty.

Halawa was kept in solitary confinement with no light or toilet for long periods. His family said he was beaten and denied medical treatment for a gunshot wound to a hand he suffered shortly before his arrest.

Halawa had staged a number of hunger strikes to force the hand of Egyptian authorities and draw attention to his case.  

But his most recent strike, which ended earlier this year, caused a sharp deterioration in his health and meant he had to use a wheelchair.

Co-defendants get lengthy sentences

While Halawa is expected to be released in the next few days, some co-defendants received lengthy sentences.

Ahmed Etiwy, a US citizen was sentenced to five years imprisonment, while the father of Mohammed Soltan - who himself was imprisoned by Egyptian authorities after the military coup - was sentenced to life.

The Irish government, which has repeatedly called for Halawa's release, welcomed the news of his acquittal.

Ireland's foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said: "On behalf of the government and on my own behalf I welcome the news from Cairo that Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted.  This is the good news we had been hoping for.  

"Ibrahim Halawa’s name has been cleared and his innocence is confirmed. I look forward to him being released from custody without delay."

Reprieve, which has campaigned for Halawa's release, also welcomed the acquittal.

Maya Foa, the human right group's director, said the verdict was "long overdue".

"Ibrahim was arrested as a child for the 'crime' of attending a protest, tortured, and tried facing the death penalty alongside adults in an unfair mass trial.

"For years, these court proceedings - which were designed to punish political dissent - made a mockery of justice.

"The Irish government and others, like the UK, must now not rest until Ibrahim is at home in Ireland.

"The wider international community - including the EU, which helps to fund Egypt’s courts - must also call urgently on Egypt to end its use of patently illegal mass trials."