Canadians describe detention in Cairo jail, demand 'due process, not cockroaches'
Fan-Yee Suen, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, September 28, 2013 12:22PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 29, 2013 9:27AM EDT
A statement from the two Canadians being held in a Cairo jail was released on Saturday, describing the "ridiculous conditions" of their detention in a cell they were sharing with 36 other "political prisoners."
Emergency doctor Dr. Tarek Loubani and Toronto-based filmmaker John Greyson were arrested in Cairo on Aug. 16, during protests between supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and Egyptian security forces.
The pair -- who started a hunger strike on Sept. 16 in protest of the arbitrary nature of their detention – say they were in the Egyptian capital en route to Gaza.
"We never planned to stay in Egypt longer than overnight. We arrived in Cairo on the 15th with transit visas and all the necessary paper to proceed to our destination: Gaza," the statement reads.
In the letter -- which was dictated by the men to their lawyers, according to Greyson's sister, Cecilia, and later relayed to family members -- the pair say they were being held in a three metre by 10 metre cell and are "sleeping like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches; sharing a single tap of earthy Nile water."
The pair has since been moved to a 3.5 metre by 5.5 metre cell which they share with six other prisoners, the statement reads.
For more than a month, both Loubani and Greyson have been detained without charges in Egypt's Tora prison. Egyptian officials have not provided any reason for the ongoing detention.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he met with his Egyptian counterpart Friday, to "raise the case of Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson."
"I appreciated the high-level engagement but impressed upon them the importance of file to the Government of Canada," Baird said in a series of tweets Saturday.
Baird, who says he also broached the subject with Egypt’s foreign minister in another meeting earlier in the week, said he looks forward to receiving updates on the status of the pair's detention in the "very near future."
A spokeswoman for Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs, told The Canadian Press that Ottawa is doing all it can to free the two men.
"Their condition and well-being remain our primary concern," Adria Minsky said.
Under Egyptian emergency law, CTV News has learned the pair can be detained in prison for up to two years without charges.
"It's really difficult to hear the extent of what happened," Greyson's sister, Cecilia Greyson, told CTV News Channel on Saturday. "They are still in an incredibly unstable situation and so it's a very difficult statement for us to read as family members."
She said the pair has been in contact with their lawyers a "number of times," and that the Canadian government has "worked very hard" on her brother and Loubani's case.
"They've been very concerned," she said.
Asked about reports the Egyptian government will charge both Loubani and Greyson in the "near future," Cecilia said she was disappointed.
"To say that they are still considering charges at this point is really a step backwards."
According to Loubani and Greyson, they were arrested while asking for help at a security check point after stopping for ice cream and then finding themselves unable to cross a police barricade.
"That's when 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 reads.
The pair say they had been at protests in Cairo's Ramses Square, approximately five blocks from their hotel. According to the statement, they decided to "check out" the demonstration, which had just started, after they weren't able to proceed to Gaza.
There was the "faint odour of tear gas" in the background while a "helicopter lazily (circled) overhead," the statement reads.
But the protests quickly escalated, at which point Loubani "snapped into doctor mode... and started to work doing emergency response" while Greyson began filming, "shooting a record of the carnage that was unfolding."
The pair said they were among 602 people arrested that night.
"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."