Canadian released from Egyptian prison after almost 500 days in custody

Canadian engineer Yasser Ahmed Albaz is out of an Egyptian prison after nearly 500 days in custody and has been reunited with his family in Oakville, Ont., his daughter said today.

Yasser Ahmed Albaz was released a week after Trudeau spoke to Egyptian president

Yasser Ahmed Albaz, left, pictured with his wife, Safaa Elashmawy. (Amal Ahmed Albaz/Suppled)

Canadian engineer Yasser Ahmed Albaz is out of an Egyptian prison after nearly 500 days in custody and has been reunited with his family in Oakville, Ont., his daughter said today.

Albaz arrived at Toronto's Pearson Airport this morning. His health has "deteriorated" and his top priority now is seeking some much-needed medical treatment after 18 months in an Egyptian prison, said Amal Ahmed Albaz in a Facebook post.

"Our family's ordeal is finally coming to an end," Albaz said. "We ask that he be given time to quietly heal from this ordeal and spend quality time with his family."

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said the department was "pleased" that Albaz has been reunited with his family here in Canada. "Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed," the spokesperson said.

Albaz traveled to Egypt for a two-month business trip but was apprehended by authorities when he was due to leave the country in February, 2019.

His family lost all contact with him for days as he was questioned by Egyptian police at the State Security Prosecutor's office. He was then transferred to Torah Prison, a place known for human rights abuses.

His passport was confiscated and the Egyptian embassy in Canada initially said they knew nothing about his case.

Albaz was never formally charged and Egyptian authorities never explained why he was being held.

His daughter has said her father, who immigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago, is not politically active and has not been "outspoken against the Egyptian government in any way. He was purely on a business trip."

Last month, the family reported that their father had coronavirus-like symptoms and had no access to appropriate health care in the prison where he was being held.

"There is no way for Yasser to protect himself from the virus. Not only is there no medical response, but cells are overcrowded, one washroom is shared, conditions are highly unsanitary and physical distancing is impossible," the family said in a status update on their website.

The family had been actively seeking his release with a letter-writing campaign meant to put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government to broker some sort of release.

Supporters also have staged "Free Yasser" protests outside the offices of Liberal MPs in southern Ontario.

Albaz credited Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne with securing her father's release.

"We are forever grateful for each and every person who supported our family," Albaz said.

Trudeau spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi by phone last Wednesday.

Asked about the call the next day, Trudeau said he and el-Sisi "spoke directly about the case of Mr. Albaz."

"We are working very closely with Egyptian authorities on this case and will continue to monitor it very very closely, hearing very clearly the voices of family members and concerned Canadians about Mr. Albaz's situation," Trudeau said.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.