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Canadian filmmaker and doctor remain imprisoned in Egypt

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Greyson and Loubani
Canadian-Palestinian doctor Tarek Loubani (left) and filmmaker John Greyson (right). Photo via

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 calls for the Canadian government to help free Greyson and Loubhani. 

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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4 Responses

  1. Justpassingby on August 23, 2013, 5:57 pm

    West doesnt care, they are imprisoned by their ally Al-Sisi.

  2. just on August 23, 2013, 6:06 pm

    I brought this up the other day because I found it ‘curious’, and disturbing.

    Rafah crossing is closed now. These gents were headed to Gaza. My guess is that the dirty laundry of both Egypt and Israel must not be “known”…..

    I hope that they remain safe and alive.

  3. Citizen on August 23, 2013, 8:48 pm

    Makes more sense for Egyptians to scapegoat foreign interference as a root problem of their country than it does for Americans to scapegoat any foreign regime for its root problem. Yes? If not, when will the US government start arresting Israelis over here?

    Oh, I forgot; the US internal security force did, on the heels of 9/11–but then they released them all to Israel without it getting any press coverage.

  4. amigo on August 24, 2013, 6:30 am

    “Egyptian media today reported that four Irish citizens are among nine foreigners to be jailed for up to 15 days pending investigation into charges including attempted murder, arson, belonging to an armed gang, and possession of arms and explosives.

    The reports claim that the nine foreigners, who also include Canadian, Turkish and Syrian nationals, deny all charges which relate to the siege of Cairo’s al-Fath mosque at the weekend.

    While the four Irish citizens were not named by the media outlets, it is understood they are the Halawa siblings.

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    Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak waves to his supporters from behind bars as he attends a hearing in his retrial on appeal in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptian judiciary officials say former President Hosni Mubarak could be freed from custody this week. Mubarak to be freed in days, says lawyer
    The caskets of 25 policemen killed early yesterday morning near the north Sinai town of Rafah lay on the ground after arriving at Almaza military airport in Cairo. Photograph: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany Deaths of 36 detainees spark fresh protest in Egypt

    The Irish Times takes no responsibility for the content or availability of other websites.

    A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of the media reports in Egypt. “Unfortunately the situation in relation to legal proceedings against [the Halawas] is unclear at present,” he said.

    The reports emerged after a representative from the Irish embassy in Cairo was granted consular access to four Irish siblings detained after security forces stormed the mosque on Saturday.

    The diplomat met Omaima Halawa (21), her sisters Fatima (23) and Soumaya (27) and brother Ibrahim (17) at the security forces headquarters in the Tora district of Cairo this afternoon. The Halawas are the only Irish nationals being detained in in Cairo.

    All four are being held together at the facility. The diplomat “spoke freely to them in person for an extended period of time” and passed on personal items from their mother who is in Cairo, according to sources. “They are upset about being in detention,” said one source.

    The Halawa sisters appeared in good health but Ibrahim Halawa had a bandaged hand. He told the visiting diplomat that the injury was a result of a gunshot wound sustained during the mosque siege.

    The Halawa family moved to Ireland 18 years ago. Their father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, is imam at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, which is located in Clonskeagh, Dublin.”IT

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