Canadians detained in Egypt while seeking directions to hotel
Published Monday, August 19, 2013 8:11AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 19, 2013 10:34PM EDT
Two Canadians arrested in Egypt late last week were detained when they visited a police station soon after it was attacked, apparently looking for directions to their hotel, sources have told CTV News.
Tarek Loubani, an emergency room physician from London, Ont., and John Greyson, a Toronto-based filmmaker and a York University professor, were arrested Friday evening in Cairo, where they had stopped on their way to Gaza.
The two men were detained at the same time several suspects in the police station attack were arrested.
Sources say that during an interrogation, Loubani was asked if he belonged to a political organization, if he had attacked police or government installations, if he had any weapons, and if he killed anyone.
Loubani is part of an exchange program between the University of Western Ontario and Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital, where he serves as a doctor and trains other physicians. Greyson has trained filmmakers in India and Iraq and was travelling with Loubani to tour Al Shifa as a potential subject for a future film.
The two men had intended to head straight to Gaza upon arriving in Egypt, but decided to stay in Cairo due to the ongoing protests and violence.
Consular officials were supposed to meet with Loubani and Greyson on Monday as they did on Sunday. That second meeting did not take place, possibly because of the curfew imposed in Egypt.
Sources say the Canadians have endured physical abuse.
The Canadian ambassador in Cairo met with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Monday, demanding an explanation for the arrests.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also commented on the matter during his tour of Canada’s Far North.
“We don't frankly know what evidence supports any such arrest and we have expressed our concerns directly to the Egyptian government,” said Harper.
Loubani’s and Greyson’s family members are calling on the Canadian government to work on their “immediate release,” according to a statement released Monday by Justin Podur, a friend of the two men.
“We are calling on Minister John Baird, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, to call for the immediate release of John and Tarek,” Loubani’s brother Mohammed said.
Loubani is committed to helping others in need, even if it places him in danger, his friend Amit Shah told CTV News.
“He does not consider his own personal safety as a priority, compared to his objectives of helping others,” he said.
Egypt has been gripped by violence since protests calling for the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi led to a military coup on July 3. Morsi’s supporters then took to the streets to denounce the coup and demand that Morsi be reinstated.
Last Wednesday, security forces moved in to break up the pro-Morsi protests and ongoing violence between the two sides has left nearly 1,000 people dead.
Meanwhile, Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula appear to be taking advantage of the volatile situation. On Monday, a group ambushed two buses carrying off-duty policemen, killing 25 of them execution-style.
Military leaders declared a state of emergency and instituted a nighttime curfew of 7 p.m. in Cairo and other areas.
Loubani’s colleague, Dr. Andrew Jones, said Loubani was working toward creating a formal academic training program in emergency medicine at Al Shifa Hospital, a project he started two years ago.
Jones told CTV News that Loubani’s friends and colleagues, “believe strongly that he was wrongly arrested and probably just as a result of wrong place, wrong time.”
On Monday, York University issued a statement saying it is “extremely concerned about the safety and well-being” of the two men.
“We are in contact with Canadian government officials about the detainment of the two men and to offer our support for their safe return,” the statement read. “Our thoughts are also with their family and friends at this time.”
Greyson became a full-time faculty member in 2005, and teaches film and video theory, film production and editing.
Podur said because the two men are experienced international travellers, they were being careful as they made their way through the region.
“They definitely understood the level of risk because their original plan was to travel directly to Gaza on the 15th and they couldn’t, they knew it was too risky to try to travel so that’s part of why they stayed in Cairo that extra day,” Podur said.
The federal government is warning Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to Egypt.
With a report by CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian and files from The Associated Press