Originally published in The Hoya, Georgetown University’s student newspaper of record, on Monday November 22, 2012.
Student Arrested in Cairo
Derrik Sweeney (COL ’13) is one of three American students detained amid violent protests
By Sarah Kaplan & Upasana Kaku
Hoya Staff Writers
Georgetown student Derrik Sweeney (COL ’13) was among three students at the American University in Cairo arrested by Egyptian police Tuesday and accused of participating in violent demonstrations.
The three students have been moved to a prosecutor’s office in the southern part of the city, according to AUC’s Director of Communications for North America, Morgan Roth. Legal proceedings are expected to move forward Wednesday morning.
The Washington Post reported that the students were accused of throwing Molotov cocktails and clashing with police while protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. A video aired on Egypt’s state-run television station showed the three students and their identification cards, including Sweeney’s GoCard.
According to university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr, university officials have been in communication with Sweeney’s family and are also in contact with officials from the American University in Cairo, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. embassy.
“We were in disbelief at first, and now its like we’re trying to figure out what can we do,” said Joy Sweeney, Derrik’smother.
She said she last spoke to her son around 3 p.m. yesterday and has not been able to contact him since he was detained. According to Sweeney, the State Department has not been able to speak with any of the arrested students either.
“It’s starting to all sink in and really hit home, the gravity of the situation, and I’m just going to continue to pray that everything is going to be okay,” she said, adding that it was difficult to watch the video of her son’s arrest.
“It’s pretty scary and pretty sad,” she said. “[Derrik] has a big-time deer-in-the-headlights look. It’s so atypical of him, because he always looks so confident.”
According to the Post, the other Americans arrested were Gregory Porter, a student at Drexel University, and Luke Gates, a student at Indiana University.
Roth said that the university was able to confirm that the students were initially being held in theAbdeen courthouse in Cairo. According to Roth, AUC sent a legal counselor to the courthouse to observe the questioning of the students before the proceedings were moved. The school has also contacted the U.S. embassy in Egypt.
“They have the best resources to be able to locate the students and monitor their whereabouts and their well being,” she said. “You want to be able to confirm with absolute clarity what’s happening and what needs to be done to secure [the students’] safety and their release.”
Stan Carignan, a junior at American University who is studying abroad at AUC, said he saw Sweeney and one of the other students at dinner before they left for Tahrir Square. Protesters have gathered there in recent days to show their opposition to the nation’s transitional government.
“I was shocked when I woke up this morning and heard that they were missing,” Carignan wrote in an email. “They’re all really great kids, so no one expected this to happen.”
The AUC has created an emergency news web page to update students about the events. The university also closed its Tahrir Square campus until further notice, according to an email sent to the AUCcommunity.
“The university cabinet and the emergency management team are meeting daily to monitor the situation as it evolves,” the email said.
According to Carignan, the atmosphere at AUC is tense.
“We literally cannot stop talking about either this or the protests,” he wrote.
The Office of International Programs emailed students studying in Cairo and urged them to stay away from the events in Tahrir Square.
“Georgetown places great emphasis on maintaining the safety and security of all students studying abroad. We would like to remind you of the importance of refraining from participating in any political activities, including demonstrations, while you are studying in Egypt,” the email said.
According to Kerr, the university anticipates continued normal operation of fall semester programs in Egypt.
Gates reported frequently attending the protests on his Twitter account. In a tweet posted Nov. 19, Gates wrote that protesters had been fired upon with live bullets.
“Yes live bullets we have the shells, i was here!!” he wrote. He later posted, “It’s only scary cuz I feel so reckless.”
All three students were to return home at the end of the semester.
Joy Sweeney said she has been told by the State Department that the students are likely to appear in court tomorrow.
“We’re all in constant communication. We’re all talking back and forth and hoping to bring him home safe,” she said.