Update: The sister of Toronto filmmaker John Greyson says her brother and London, Ont., doctor Tarek Loubani, will be held for another 45 days. Cecilia Greyson says their lawyers told her the extension applied to everyone arrested on Aug. 16 during a bloody protest in Cairo. She says family members are concerned about the two men’s health, since they are on the 13th day of a hunger strike to protest their detention. Cecilia Greyson says lawyers have launched an appeal to free the men, with a decision possible within days.
TORONTO – Two Canadians imprisoned in Egypt say they were beaten and have been subjected to degrading treatment in a cockroach ridden jail cell since being detained at the height of violent protests in Cairo last month.
Tarek Loubani, a London, Ont., doctor, and Toronto filmmaker John Greyson issued a joint statement on Saturday giving their first comments on the ordeal they have gone through since being arrested in Cairo six weeks ago.
“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,” said the statement, which was posted on a website dedicated to obtaining their release.
The pair said they went to watch the protests a few blocks from their hotel on Aug. 15 and witnessed dozens of protesters being brutally killed. Their nightmare started when they stopped for ice cream and then tried to go through a police roadblock.
“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,” the statement said.
“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.”
The pair had only planned an overnight stay in Cairo on Aug. 15 before heading to Gaza, where Loubani was to teach emergency-room medicine documented by Greyson, the statement said.
But they couldn’t get across the border due the outbreak of protests in Cairo and across the country the following day.
As they watched the violence erupt in Cairo’s Ramses Square they heard calls of “doctor.”
“(We saw) 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.”
“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,” the statement added.
The men said they witnessed more than 50 Egyptians die, adding the day’s final death toll reached 102.
The men are denied phone calls with family while attempts to get clear answers from prosecutors about why they’re being held go unanswered, the statement contends.
“We deserve due process, not cockroaches on concrete. We demand to be released,” they said.
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.
Cecilia Greyson said that while the men were well aware of the toll a hunger strike would take on their bodies, their families remain worried for their health and care.
“We’re very concerned about how they’re doing and they are going to be cautious with… not eating food but we are very concerned with their health and also with their safety.”
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.
“I appreciated the high-level engagement but impressed upon them the importance of file to the government of Canada,” Baird said on Twitter after the statement came out.
“I look forward to receiving future updates in very near future.”
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.”
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.
The unrest in Cairo was sparked after president Mohammed Morsi was removed from power, prompting his supporters to take to the streets.