Egypt Extends Detention of Two Canadians Held Without Charge

Two Canadian citizens who were arrested in Cairo on August 16 and jailed without charge since have had their detention extended for another 45 days. The pair, Dr. Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, also launched a hunger strike two weeks ago to protest their imprisonment, writing in a statement published online, “We deserve due process, not cockroaches on concrete. We demand to be released.”

Loubani and Greyson were en route to Gaza when they were arrested. The two have said that their travels were thwarted by a border closure at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and that they “decided to check out” a protest at Ramses Square. They were arrested amid clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Loubani had treated demonstrators suffering from gunshot wounds while Greyson filmed what was happening before their arrest.

Egyptian authorities announced the extension of Loubani and Greyson’s remand on Sunday, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The men’s lawyers were told that all those who had been arrested on August 16 would have their detention extended by the same amount of time. The office of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday demanded that Egypt release the two, saying in a statement to Canadian media, “In the absence of charges, Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson should be released immediately.”

However, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said last Friday that the prosecutor general has a solid basis for indicting them, but did not say what the charges would be.

Loubani, 32, of Palestinian extraction, was on his way to al-Shifa Hospital to train physicians in advanced cardiac life support and advanced trauma life support as part of a cooperation project begun two years ago between Western University and the Gaza hospital. Greyson, 53, a film professor at York University, was planning to make a short documentary about Loubani’s work. (Greyson has been active in opposing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, participating in a flotilla that sought to sail from Greece to Gaza about two years ago; it was stopped from sailing in the end.)

Loubani and Greyson presented their story in a statement published Saturday that their friends published on a website dedicated to their release. “We are on the 12th day of our hunger strike at Tora, Cairo’s main prison, located on the banks of the Nile,” the statement reads in part. “We’ve been held here since August 16 in ridiculous conditions: no phone calls, little to no exercise, sharing a 3m x 10m cell with 36 other political prisoners, sleeping like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches; sharing a single tap of earthy Nile water.

“The protest was just starting — peaceful chanting, the faint odour of tear gas, a helicopter lazily circling overhead — when suddenly calls of ‘doctor.’ A young man carried by others from God-knows-where, bleeding from a bullet wound. Tarek snapped into doctor mode…and started to work doing emergency response, trying to save lives, while John did video documentation, shooting a record of the carnage that was unfolding. The wounded and dying never stopped coming. Between us, we saw over fifty Egyptians die: students, workers, professionals, professors, all shapes, all ages, unarmed. We later learned the body count for the day was 102.”

After getting lost, they asked police at a roadblock for directions. “That’s when we 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. Was it our Canadian passports, or the footage of Tarek performing CPR, or our ice cream wrappers that set them off? They screamed ‘Canadian’ as they kicked and hit us. John had a precisely etched bootprint bruise on his back for a week.

“We were two of 602 arrested that night, all 602 potentially facing the same grab-bag of ludicrous charges: arson, conspiracy, terrorism, possession of weapons, firearms, explosives, attacking a police station. The arrest stories of our Egyptian cellmates are remarkably similar to ours: Egyptians who were picked up on dark streets after the protest, by thugs or cops, blocks or miles from the police station that is the alleged site of our alleged crimes.

“We’ve been here in Tora prison for six weeks, and are now in a new cell (3.5m x 5.5m) that we share with ‘only’ six others. We’re still sleeping on concrete with the cockroaches, and still share a single tap of Nile water, but now we get (almost) daily exercise and showers. Still no phone calls. The prosecutor won’t say if there’s some outstanding issue that’s holding things up. The routers, the film equipment, or the footage of Tarek treating bullet wounds through that long bloody afternoon? Indeed, we would welcome our day in a real court with the real evidence, because then this footage would provide us with our alibi and serve as a witness to the massacre.”

An update from last week on the website dedicated to their release said the two men held a brief meeting with the prosecutor and their lawyers and were visited by consular staff. They are “in good health, although they are reported to be tired.”

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