Derrik Sweeney (COL ’13) arrested in Cairo amidst protests, won’t be released until Sunday
Update, 4:15 p.m.: In an e-mail to Vox, Nicole Sweeney said the reason the her family has been given for the delay in Sweeney’s release, which a judge had ordered earlier today, is that after a required medical exam was completed, Egyptian authorities decided there was not enough time to file release paperwork before the work day ended. Because Friday and Saturday are the weekend in Egypt, the next work day is Sunday, which is when the three will be released.
According to her e-mail, the three are sleeping on the floor of the state prosecutor’s office “with two blankets between them,” not in a jail cell.
Update, 3:12 p.m.: According to Sweeney’s father, Kevin Sweeney, the three students will not be released until Sunday. In an interview with CBS Radio News, the elder Sweeney said the three are being held in “appalling” conditions without furniture. Sweeney’s sister Nicole tweeted, “I just had the rug pulled out from under my #ridiculouslygrateful Thanksgiving. No release yet…”
Earlier, there were conflicting reports about whether or not the three had already been released. President DeGioia’s statement indicated they had been released already.
Update, 10:43 a.m.: University President John J. DeGioia released the following statement this morning:
We are grateful for the news this morning that our student, Derrik Sweeney, and the other two American students have been released in Cairo. Our entire Georgetown community is deeply grateful to all those whose prompt attention and work led to their release, especially officials at the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and the American University in Cairo. Our thoughts and prayers have been with the Sweeney family and the family and friends of the other two American students. As we give thanks, we continue to keep them in our prayers.
Update, 10:39 a.m., November 24: A Cairo judge ordered the release of the three detained students, including Sweeney.
According to a telephone interview with Sweeney’s parents for the Washington Post, Sweeney will be flying home tomorrow. “I’m so happy right now I can’t even express my joy. He’s just such a positive kid. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about everything,” said his mother, Joy Sweeney, to the Post.
Update, 6:56 p.m.: A few minutes ago, Nicole Sweeney, Derrik’s older sister, tweeted, “There will be a hearing tomorrow after all. They should be either charged or released at that time.”
According to an AFP report earlier today, Cairo’s prosecutor general had ordered that Sweeney and the other two students be detained for four days as their questioning continues. The students were being questioned in the presence of US Embassy personnel, a defense attorney, and a translator.
Update, 11:55 a.m.: According to Nicole Sweeney, Derrik’s mother Joy was able to speak to him today. She also tweeted, “Derrik indicated that treatment was poor until the last 24 hours or so. I owe additional thanks to everyone who helped spread the word.”
Update, 9:31 a.m.: More information has come to light about the hours immediately before Sweeney’s arrest. In a telephone interview with AP, Assil Dayri, a student at the American University in Cairo and a friend of Sweeney, said he left campus on Monday evening to see the protests in Tahrir Square. At 3:30 a.m. the next morning, he got a call, which was prematurely cut off, saying that Sweeney and the other two students had been taken away by unknown people.
Responding to claims he had heard that authorities found a backpack belonging to Sweeney with explosives inside, Dayri said, “He left without a backpack.”
Update, 9:15 a.m., November 23: According to AUC, the three arrested students will be “interviewed” today by the State Security public prosecutor. They were interviewed yesterday as well, said the University on its website.
The three students have also been seen today by the US Consul General, according to a tweet by Sweeney’s sister Nicole Sweeney. She also said that although they will be questioned today, charges against them may not be made until tomorrow.
Update, 6:46 p.m.: Earlier today, Kathy Bellows, the Executive Director of the Office of International Students, sent an e-mail to every Georgetown student currently studying abroad, in light of Sweeney’s arrest in Cairo. Bellows wrote, “We would like to remind you of the importance of refraining from participation in any political activities, including demonstrations, while you are studying abroad.”
Update, 6:06 p.m.: In an e-mail to campus press, University spokeswoman Stacy Kerr said, “I can tell you at this time we anticipate continued normal operation of the fall semester program.” There are currently seven Georgetown students, including Sweeney, studying abroad at the AUC.
Update, 5:57 p.m.: According to an AP report, an Egyptian government official said the three students were throwing firebombs from the roof of a University building when they were arrested. AUC’s old campus is located adjacent to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests sweeping Egypt.
AP also reported that AUC spokeswoman Morgan Roth said the three arrested students were supposed to be questioned on Tuesday in the presence of US Embassy and AUC officials, but the questioning was cancelled and has yet to be rescheduled.
Update, 5:16 p.m.: According to Sweeney’s sister Nicole, he will be spending the night in a courthouse in the Abdeen neighborhood of Cairo. “Sometime around noon tomorrow we should start getting actual answers,” she said in a tweet.
Guardian reporter Karen McVeigh tweeted that US Embassy officials have not yet had “consular access” to the three arrested students. The State Department expects that consular visits will happen tomorrow.
Update, 4:33 p.m.: Amin Bonnah, an Arabic professor at Georgetown, told CNN, “I do not believe he is the kind of person who did that.” Bonnah also described Sweeney as “a very peaceful, socially peaceful, loving person.”
Update, 2:02 p.m.: In an interview with the Washington Post, Sweeney’s father said, “He’s a huge believer in American freedom.” Kevin Sweeney also speculated, “I suspect that being with a bunch of Egyptian students he probably got caught up in something. Who knows?”
Update, 12:42 p.m.: Derrik Sweeney’s family has issued the following statement to the Voice about his arrest:
To The Georgetown University Community,
First, we would like to thank everyone for your continued support for Derrik. Seeing the outpouring of love and concern from his friends at a school he cherishes has been valuable moral support for us. We are hopeful that Derrik will very soon be able to thank you himself.
At present, we know very little about the situation, though we are in contact with The State Department. To that end, we would like to thank the people – many of whom from Georgetown – who made phone calls to help bring attention to this situation.
We thank you again for your continued support while we hope for his prompt return home to us.
The Sweeney Family
Update, 12:28 p.m.: The Twitter account of Indiana University student Luke Gates, one of the three arrested students, refers to his frequent involvement in the protests in Cairo. One tweet from November 19 says, “we were throwing rocks and one guy accidentally threw his phone =(.” His tweets also indicate that he sustained minor injuries from participating in earlier protests.
Update, 11:29 a.m.: According to AUC, the three detained students have made contact with their schools and/or families. Sweeney has been in contact with the University.
Update, 11:11 a.m.: the University has released a statement on Sweeney’s arrest:
Georgetown University has been notified by the American University in Cairo that a Georgetown student, Derrik Sweeney, who is studying at the American University in Cairo, has been detained in Egypt. Georgetown University officials have been in communication with Derrik’s family. Georgetown University officials are also in touch with American University in Cairo officials, the U.S. State Department and embassy officials.
Original story, 10:48 a.m.: According to an Associated Press/CBS News report, three American students, including one Georgetown student, have been arrested in Cairo, Egypt in connection to the widespread protests against the military regime that have taken place there in recent days.
Derrik Sweeney (COL ’13) (far right) was identified by an American University spokeswoman as one of the three arrested. The other two are Greg Porter of Drexel University and Luke Gates of Indiana University. All three are studying abroad at the American University of Cairo this semester.
The University was not able to confirm Sweeney’s identity because his family has yet to be notified.
One ministry official told the Associated Press that the three were arrested while throwing firebombs at security officials during the protests in Tahrir Square. According to the Washington Post, a state television broadcast, which is embedded below, said the three have been accused of “throwing flaming canisters at Egyptian security forces.”
In a statement to CNN, Adel Saeed, a spokesman for the Egyptian general prosecutor, said, “The three boys were throwing molotov cocktails and had no passports on them when they were picked up.” Saeed also said, “They have been questioned by the police and will be further investigated today by the Cairo prosecutor.” The American University in Cairo is working closely with the U.S. Embassy toward their release.
We’ll be updating this post as we get more information.
Photo: Egyptian Ministry of the Interior (Arabic)