NEWS

Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, jailed in Egypt, give account of arrest

09/28/2013 11:54 EDT | Updated 11/28/2013 05:12 EST
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.

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 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.

Visited Cairo protest

The pair 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."

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 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.

- Ex-inmate describes conditions in Egyptian jail

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.”

On his blog, Podur said he released the statement in light of a Toronto Star article declaring an announcement of impending charges by Egyptian authorities.

Read the full statement below.

Tarek and John in their own words

September 28/13, 11am

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

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