Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, jailed in Egypt, give account of arrest
Pair on 12th day of hunger strike, after weeks in Cairo's Tora prison
Two Canadians on a hunger strike in an Egyptian prison have released a statement demanding to be set free and explaining what they were doing and what they saw the day they were arrested in Cairo on Aug. 16.
A close friend, Justin Podur, posted the full statement on his blog, revealing what Loubani and Greyson say is a full account of that day.
"We want all the facts to come out," Podur told CBC News. "Nothing they did was illegal by any sane legal system."
The pair, now on the 12th day of their hunger strike, have spent six weeks in Cairo's Tora prison.
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In the statement they recount the first 30 days of their detainment with “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.”
Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ont., and Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker and university professor, had been intending to make their way to Gaza last month when they were arrested. They both have family in the Maritimes — Greyson's sister lives in Halifax and Loubani has family in both Halifax and Bathurst, N.B.
On his blog, Podur said he released the statement in light of a Toronto Star article which suggested that Egyptian authorities may soon announce charges against the two men.
'They are in an unsafe situation in this prison. There are instabilities in the country. We take it hour by hour...We are certainly not at ease, at any point, in this scenario."- Cecelia Greyson, sister of John
"Canadian embassy officials were led to believe, last week, they were going to be released. We got a positive report from them," said Podur. "This now goes from a prosecutor to trial. What kind of trial are they going to get under emergency law?"
Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, tweeted Saturday that he had a "good meeting" with Egypt's foreign minister and appreciated the "high-level engagement" during his talks.
Meanwhile, Béatrice Fénelon from Foreign Affairs issued an official statement that "Canada continues to press at all levels, including directly with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, for a timely and positive resolution to this situation and in the absence of confirmation of the charges continues to call for the release of Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson."
Cecilia Greyson, John's sister, told CBC News she's "very disappointed" about news that charges may be laid.
"This may be an opportunity for the prime minister to make overtures to his counterpart in Egypt because this process ... has really gotten out of hand," she said.
Greyson said the families will not stop worrying until the pair are released.
"They are in an unsafe situation in this prison," she said. "There are instabilities in the country. We take it hour by hour ... We are certainly not at ease, at any point, in this scenario."
Visited Cairo protest
Egyptian prosecutors have accused Loubani and Greyson of "participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood" in an attack on a police station that day.
Loubani and Greyson say they were stuck in Cairo that day because it was difficult to cross into Gaza, and so decided to visit a protest in Ramses Square, five blocks from their hotel.
Within moments, they say chaos ensued, with wounded people being carried out of the square and shots ringing out. According to the statement, Loubani began helping the injured, at one point performing CPR, while Greyson filmed the scene.
“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 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.- John Greyson and Tarek Loubani
The pair say they were having trouble getting out of the police cordon and back to their hotel, asking for help at a checkpoint.
“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.”
"They yelled out 'Canadian' as if it was a slur," said Podur. "This is beyond disrespect for Tarek and John and their families. This is disrespect towards the whole country."
The two were arrested along with hundreds of others that day – during violent clashes between members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were demonstrating against the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and police in Cairo's Ramses Square.
Foreign Affairs officials have said they believe Loubani and Greyson were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were detained.
About 115,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the release of the two men.
The end of the statement reveals Loubani and Greyson are now in a new cell, which they share with 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.”
They are pleading to have their “day in a real court with the real evidence.”