Legal status of detained Irish citizens in Cairo remains unclear
Halawa siblings rounded up during unrest in capital
Nusayba, sister of the Halawa siblings, outside the Department of Foreign Affairs calling for the release of her sisters and brother. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The precise whereabouts and legal status of four Irish citizens detained in Cairo remain unclear a week after they were rounded up by security forces during unrest in the Egyptian capital.
Omaima (21), Fatima (23), Soumaia (27) and their 17-year-old brother Ebraheem Halawa have been in custody since they were detained after leaving the besieged al-Fath mosque last Saturday.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has expressed concern about Egyptian media reports that four Irish citizens – believed to be the Halawa siblings – are among nine foreign nationals being investigated for charges including attempted murder, possessing firearms and belonging to a militant group.
Irish officials have not yet been able to confirm the reports that four Irish nationals are among those remanded in custody for 15 days by a Cairo prosecutor pending investigations into violence that erupted around al-Fath mosque.
The reports emerged after a representative from the Irish Embassy in Cairo was granted consular access to the Halawas on Tuesday. The diplomat met the siblings at the security forces headquarters in the Tora district of Cairo. It is believed they have since been transferred to another security facility on the outskirts, but neither the family’s lawyer nor the Embassy have been able to confirm this.
The siblings were visiting relatives in Egypt when they decided to take part in protests against the military overthrow last month of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president. All are Irish citizens and travelled on Irish passports. They had joined demonstrations near al-Fath mosque last Friday week and sought shelter there after clashes broke out. Security forces overran the complex the following day and detained scores, including several journalists.
Family and friends in Ireland have protested the Halawas’ innocence and highlighted the case through social media and demonstrations at the Egyptian embassy in Dublin. They have also started an online petition addressed to Mr Gilmore.
“We believe that the Irish authorities do not understand just how dangerous the situation with the Halawas really is,” it reads. “The situation is being taken very lightly at the moment. . . . The Halawas are Irish citizens; the Irish government must do its level best to ensure that the Halawas arrive back in Ireland safely.”