Canadians Arrested and Beaten in Egypt for Trying to Help Others
Two Canadian citizens, Dr. Tarek Loubani and filmmaker John Greyson, have been detained in brutal and “ridiculous conditions” in Egypt‘s Tora prison since August 16. While authorities have yet to formerly charge them, their detention was extended for another 45 days as of Sunday, a “bad sign” as Heba Morayev, Egypt director of Human Rights Watch in Cairo, says to the Toronto Star.
Dr. Loubani, a professor of emergency medicine at Western University in London, Ontario, and Greyson, a professor at Toronto’s York University and a well-regarded film and television director, had been traveling through Egypt on their way to Gaza back in August, shortly after the Egyptian military instigated a harsh crackdown on members of the Muslim Brotherhood following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3rd. Dr. Loubani was traveling to the Gaza strip to provide training for Palestinian doctors as part of a humanitarian mission; Greyson was accompanying him to document the trip. Both had transit visas and other necessary documents.
This past weekend, Dr. Loubani and Greyson released a statement detailing how, a year after a chance meeting at the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, they ended up in a cell in Cairo’s main prison on the banks of the Nile. The two men had never intended to be in Egypt for longer than one night; due to the unrest caused by the coup, the official Rafah border to Gaza was not opened regularly.
Arrested, Beaten, Held in a Cell With Cockroaches
On the night of August 16, they were to check out protests in Ramses Square in Cairo. On seeing wounded protesters, Dr. Loubani rushed to assist them while Greyson took video documentation. Unable to find their way back to their hotel room due to a police cordon, they went to a checkpoint for assistance and were “arrested, searched, caged, questioned, interrogated, videotaped with a ‘Syrian terrorist,’ slapped, beaten, ridiculed, hot-boxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being foreign mercenaries.” 602 others were arrested that night.
Initially, Dr. Loubani and Greyson were placed in a 3 meter by 10 meter cell with 36 other political prisoners where they slept “like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches” and had access only to a “single tap of earthy Nile water.” They have since been placed in a cell with “only” six other prisoners but are allowed “(almost) daily exercise and showers” but still no phone calls. They have been on a hunger strike for almost two weeks.
Dr. Loubani’s and Greyson’s detention had previously been extended three times, each time for fifteen days. The decision to detain them for 45 more days means they could face interrogation for at least a dozen charges of “terrorizing citizens,” weapons possession and attempting to burn down a police station. As of early this week, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry says that they will charged be with “participating in an illegal demonstration.”
According to Morayev of Human Rights Watch, “Since there is clearly no evidence in their case of any criminal activity on their part, their continued detention is based on instructions from security agencies.”
Under current Egyptian law, Dr. Loubani and Greyson can be held for up to six months without being charged. If they are charged, they could face detention behind bars of two years before a trial.
Detainment of Dr. Loubani and Greyson Reveals “Paranoia” in Egypt
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry is claiming that the equipment the two men had with them (laptop, camera gear, a home wireless router, and a toy helicopter to test the transportation of medical samples) was to be used for surveillance purposes. As a relative of Dr. Loubani, Mohammed Loubani, says, such a claim “only serves to highlight the heightened state of paranoia and xenophobia sweeping Egypt, whose government also arrested a stork.”
Pointing to the lack of any evidence, John Greyson’s sister, Cecilia, says that “they are not being held for anything that they did; they are being held because of what they saw and documented on August 16th.”
The Canadian embassy in Cairo has been consulting with Egyptian authorities, but could do far more than hold meetings. Social activist and author Naomi Klein argues that the government of Prime Minister Brian Harper could raise the stakes by focusing on Egypt’s faltering economy. As she says, “Canadian mining companies are clamoring to gain access to Egypt’s resources and with the Egyptian economy in free fall, the military is desperate for these investments to arrive”; the government should not be putting the lives of two Canadian citizens on the line in favor of “short-term economic interests of the mining sector.”
As Cecilia Greyson emphasizes, the arrest and continued, arbitrary detainment of Dr. Loubani and Greyson is a “tragic episode” and all the more so because they had only traveled to Egypt with the intent of providing and documenting much needed medical care for residents of Gaza.
Urge Egypt to release Dr. Tarek Loubani and John Greyson immediately.
Photo via Free Tarek Loubani and John Greyson