Canadian-Palestinian doctor Tarek Loubani (left) and filmmaker John Greyson (right). Photo via Change.org.
Two Canadian citizens remain locked up in Egyptian jail, and it remains unclear when they will be released.
Filmmaker John Greyson and Canadian-Palestinian doctor Tarek Loubani were taken into custody by Egyptian police last week after they arrived in the country with the intention of going to Gaza. Greyson, a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and Loubani had planned to go to the Palestinian territory via Egypt to work on an academic and medical project in partnership with al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Greyson had also planned to conduct research in Gaza for a film project.
The Canadian government has called for evidence against the two to be released, and consular authorities have visited them in jail. “We don’t frankly know what evidence supports any such arrest, and we have expressed our concerns directly to the Egyptian government,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at a recent press conference.
But the two continue to be imprisoned in Cairo’s Tora prison, where Muslim Brotherhood officials have been held and where former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was released from yesterday. They are reportedly doing fine in the jail and are in “high spirits,” though their lawyer, Khaled El Shalakany, told CBC News that the cell they are staying in is overcrowded.
While they haven’t been charged with any crimes, the two Canadians are being held on a 45-day detention order while Egyptian authorities investigate them. (Other reports say they are being jailed on a 15-day detention order.) The two are likely being held in connection with what Egyptian authorities say is an attempt to storm a police station. But Justin Podur, a friend of the men and a colleague of Greyson’s who was their emergency contact, dismissed those allegations. In a blog post, Podur wrote:
Today a district prosecutor in Cairo sent a press release to domestic Egyptian media outlets referring to the detention for 15 days of nine foreigners — 4 Irish, 2 Syrian, 1 Turkish, and 2 Canadian — pending investigation into a wide-ranging list of allegations concerning events that took place at the al-Fateh mosque and the Azbakiya police station.
These two sets of events were distinct in space and time. Four Irish siblings were arrested on Saturday August 17, when police raided the al-Fateh mosque. Tarek and John were already in custody at the time…
We are not sure of the identities of any of the nine foreigners mentioned, but the prosecution’s press release is a clear attempt to put a group of foreigners arrested at different times and places into a single group to create a far-fetched story about foreigners to justify ongoing imprisonment.
No allegations against John and Tarek have been relayed through consular officials or their Egyptian counsel. No Egyptian official has linked any names, much less Tarek and John’s, to these far-fetched allegations.
The exact details of how they were arrested remain unclear, but they reportedly stopped by a police station to ask for directions when they got lost as the time for curfew in the country neared. Still, friends of the two men are puzzled as to why two well-seasoned travelers would do that in the middle of the convulsions on the Egyptian street.
Greyson and Loubani arrived in the country as turmoil rocked Egypt in the aftermath of the killings of Morsi supporters by the Egyptian military. They had planned to travel to Gaza, but remained in Cairo because the Rafah crossing was shut down by the Egyptian regime.
Foreigners, particularly international journalists and Palestinians and Syrians, have been demonized by the Egyptian regime since the July 3 coup. The rhetoric of blaming foreigners for unrest in the country is a favored tool of authoritarian regimes.
Supporters of the two men have been working hard for their release. A wide range of organizations and individuals have called for their freedom.
As the Electronic Intifada‘s Ali Abunimah reported, Egypt’s Cinematic Syndicate, which represents the film industry in the country, has called for their release. And a petition with nearly 70,000 signatures on Change.org calls for the Canadian government to help free Greyson and Loubhani.