CAIRO – Two Canadians held for seven weeks in an Egyptian prison in what they’ve described as brutal conditions have been freed, Canadian officials announced Saturday.
There were few other details on the release of John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani, who were arrested on Aug. 16 during violent anti-government demonstrations in Cairo.
“I look forward to Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson being reunited with their families and friends, who have shown tremendous strength during this difficult time,” Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs said in a statement late Saturday.
“We are facilitating Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson’s departure from Egypt,” the statement added.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also welcomed the news of the release of the two Canadians, issuing a statement from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur where he`s continuing a visit aimed at strengthening ties with that Southeast Asian nation.
“The government of Canada has obviously been pushing for that and welcomes this decision by the government of Egypt and we look forward to seeing these two Canadian citizens return home in the not too distant future.”
Greyson and Loubani were released Sunday morning but there has been no confirmed word on exactly when they will be returning to Canada.
“They are awaiting passports and when they get them we will get them booked on a flight home,” Justin Podur, a friend, said on Twitter late Saturday.
The two men’s families couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but Greyson’s sister expressed her relief through social media.
“Christmas comes early this year! Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to #freeandtarekandjohn,” Cecilia Greyson tweeted.
Greyson’s sister Cecilia flew to Toronto Sunday morning after hearing of the pair’s sudden release. She told the local TV station CP24 that she spoke to her brother Saturday for the first time in more than 50 days and was relieved to find him healthy and happy.
“He sounded really good, actually,” Cecilia Greyson said after landing at Pearson airport. “He sounded just like normal — he was happy and cracking jokes and sounded healthy.”
Both men are staying in a hotel in Cairo while they ease back into normal life, she told the TV station.
“They have to take a couple days and get everything organized before they come back,” she said, adding no date has been set for their return.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed her relief that the two Ontarians were free.
“Proud of everyone who worked so hard to bring them home,” she said in a Twitter post.
Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair expressed relief about the release.
“It was a really serious source of concern for all Canadians and we’re just glad that it’s done,” said Mulcair, who made the comment while attending a party event in Ottawa.
Greyson, a Toronto based filmmaker and Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ont. have said they planned to stay in the Egyptian capital only briefly on their way to Gaza last month.
They issued a statement from prison last month indicating they had decided to check out protests that were close to their hotel and saw at least 50 protesters killed. Loubani stopped to treat some injured protesters and Greyson filmed the carnage.
Their statement said that after leaving the scene of the protests they asked police for directions and were stopped and beaten and taken into custody.
Subsequently Egyptian prosecutors accused them of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an attack on a police station, but never laid any charges.
The two Canadians said they spent most of their time crammed with other inmates in a filthy, cockroach-infested prison cell as they awaited word on their fate.
The pair staged a 16 day hunger strike to try to pressure Egyptian officials to release them, but started eating food again last week.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and other Canadian officials intensely lobbied Egyptian officials for weeks, demanding that the pair either be charged with a crime or released.
Baird spoke with his Egyptian counterpart for an hour late last month lobbying on the two men’s behalf.