“The Halawas are innocent victims”
Journalist detained with Irish siblings describes conditions in prison
The Halawa siblings, Ibrahim, Fatima, Omaima and Somaia
An Egyptian journalist who was detained for 10 hours with the Irish siblings facing charges in Cairo related to a mosque siege at the weekend says they were upset and confused over their detention.
Egyptian media reported yesterday that a Cairo prosecution office had ordered the detention of nine foreign nationals, among them Irish citizens Omaima Halawa (21), her sisters Fatima (23) and Soumaya (27) and brother Ibrahim (17), for 15 days pending investigations into clashes that erupted around al-Fath mosque after protests in nearby Ramses Square.
The prosecution has reportedly accused them of attempted murder, belonging to a militant group, possessing firearms, assaulting police officers, and attacking public property. All are said to deny the charges against them.
Freelance journalist Shaimaa Awad (31) was one of dozens swept up by security forces as they overran al-Fath mosque, inside which supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, including the Halawa siblings, had barricaded themselves.
Awad was bundled into a security vehicle along with two of the sisters. They were taken to Cairo’s notorious Tora prison, where they were put in a small room with more than 30 other female detainees, including the other Halawa sister. Male detainees were taken to a nearby room.
Awad said there was so little space in the room they had to take turns sitting on the floor. “It was very hot and there was little fresh air.”
The detainees were given sandwiches and water. They were taken one by one for interrogation. At one point the door of the room was opened for fresh air to circulate.
Awad said she could see the men being interrogated in another room. She said some were blindfolded and officers were hitting them on the head.
“The Halawas were upset and frightened. They could not understand how they had ended up in this situation.
“I saw them at the protests and the mosque. They did nothing wrong. They were very quiet when we were in the interrogation. They told the interrogators that they had Irish nationality and they wanted to contact the Irish Embassy as soon as possible. The man replied: ‘We will see.’”
After 10 hours, Awad and most of the others were released. “I couldn’t understand why we were let go and they were not.”
The Halawa sisters rejoined their brother and all were transferred to the security forces headquarters in the Tora neighbourhood.
This is where they met a representative from the Irish Embassy yesterday – the first consular access allowed to them since they were detained. Their lawyer has not been granted access to them.
“There needs to be a combined international effort to get the Halawas and the others released,” said Awad. “They are innocent victims.”