September 28, 2013 10:37 pm
Updated: September 28, 2013 10:48 pm

Two Canadians jailed in Egypt say they saw dozens die before being arrested, beaten

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Sept. 28, 2013: We’re learning more about two Canadians being held in an Egyptian prison and the horrific conditions there. Doctor Tarek Loubani and John Greyson have released a statement about their imprisonment for the past month. Global Toronto’s Robert Malcolm reports.

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Two Canadians detained in Egypt for more than six weeks say they witnessed more than 50 protesters die in a bloody Cairo demonstration before being arrested and beaten.

Tarek Loubani and John Greyson say in a joint statement they only planned an overnight stay in Cairo while en route to Gaza on Aug. 15, but were stuck in the city due to a blocked border crossing.

They say the next day they decided to check out the Ramses Square protests mere blocks from their hotel when they heard calls for a doctor and saw a young man bleeding from a bullet wound.

The statement says Loubani, a doctor from London, Ont., quickly began treating the wounded while Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker, documented what they describe as “the carnage.”

They say they saw more than 50 Egyptians killed.

The men say they eventually left the square and asked a police check point for help getting to their hotel when they were suddenly arrested, detained and beaten.

The pair are on day 12 of a hunger strike to protest their detention.

Greyson’s sister Cecilia said Canadian consular officials visited the men two days ago and told her they are in “good health” but are tired and showing visible signs of weight loss.

She said the statement was dictated by the men to their lawyers and is being released in response to a Toronto Star report quoting an Egypt foreign ministry spokesman saying there is a “solid basis… to charge them in the near future.”

Egyptian prosecutors have accused Loubani and Greyson of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an attack on a police station.

Cecilia Greyson said the accusations against the pair are trumped up and that the men are being held because of the deaths they witnessed that day in Cairo.

Foreign Minister John Baird said he raised the case of the Loubani and Greyson in a meeting Friday night with his Egyptian counterpart.

Adria Minsky, a spokeswoman for Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs, said in an email that Ottawa is doing all it can to free the two men.

“Their condition and well-being remain our primary concern.”

There was no immediate comment from the Canadian government on the statement and the claim the pair were beaten and the conditions they are being held in.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed hope the two men would be released as soon as possible.

“I join my voice with the voices that are calling for a speedy release of the prisoners in Egypt,” said Wynne, who was attending a Liberal party event in Hamilton Saturday.

Loubani and Greyson were informed on Sept. 15 they would be detained for another 15 days.

In the Star report, the Egyptian spokesman said the pair’s detention will continue to be extended every two weeks until the attorney general’s office finishes its investigation.

Read the full statement below: 

We are on the 12th day of our hunger strike at Tora, Cairo’s main prison, located on the banks of the Nile. 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.

We never planned to stay in Egypt longer than overnight. We arrived in Cairo on the 15th with transit visas and all the necessary paperwork to proceed to our destination: Gaza. Tarek volunteers at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and brings people with him each time. John intended to shoot a short film about Tarek’s work.

Because of the coup, the official Rafah border was opening and closing randomly, and we were stuck in Cairo for the day. We were carrying portable camera gear (one light, one microphone, John’s HD Canon, two Go-Pros) and gear for the hospital (routers for a much-needed wifi network and two disassembled toy-sized helicopters for testing the transportation of medical samples).

Because of the protests in Ramses Square and around the country on the 16th, our car couldn’t proceed to Gaza. We decided to check out the Square, five blocks from our hotel, carrying our passports and John’s HD camera. 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.

We left in the evening when it was safe, trying to get back to our hotel on the Nile. We stopped for ice cream. We couldn’t find a way through the police cordon though, and finally asked for help at a check point.

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.

We deserve due process, not cockroaches on concrete. We demand to be released.

Peace, John & Tarek

© 2013 The Canadian Press

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