Canadian returns home after nearly 500 days in Egyptian prison without charges
TORONTO -- A Canadian man detained in an Egyptian prison for almost 500 days without charges has finally returned home.
Yasser Albaz shared an emotional hug with his family members as he arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport Tuesday, more than 16 months after he was imprisoned in a cramped cell in Cairo following a business trip.
His daughter Amal called the long-awaited reunion “surreal.”
“We are just so relieved. It feels like this huge rock that was just lifted off of our chests, and we can finally breathe,” she told CTV News on Thursday.
The family has credited the federal government with helping secure Albaz’s release. His daughter specifically thanked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who raised Albaz’s detention with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a conversation last week.
“I really feel extremely grateful for the support of our prime minister, the support of all the ministers and MPs and government officials, and of course our community and the thousands of Canadians across the country who really, really helped amplify my father’s voice and his situation,” she said.
Protesters marched on Parliament Hill two weeks ago, pleading for Ottawa to intervene because the family feared that Albaz, a 52-year-old engineer, is sick with COVID-19 and might die if he wasn’t brought home.
Before flying back to Canada, Albaz tested negative for COVID-19. Even so, his daughter said he was exhibiting COVID-like symptoms and is still having trouble breathing and speaking. He is currently receiving oxygen.
“Obviously the complications of the virus are still there … but he did test negative and we are grateful for that,” she said.
Albaz was detained in February 2019 on his way home from a business trip for 499 days, held without charges in a crammed cell in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison. Human Rights Watch has described Tora as “the central site for those deemed enemies of the state.” There are reports there is a COVID-19 outbreak there.
Albaz is a dual citizen and was travelling on his Canadian passport at the time of his arrest. He was about to board a flight back to Canada when he was "flagged," his family says.
Since Albaz returned home, his family has been cherishing his company and allowing him to get some much-needed rest. Amal said they will wait until he recovers to discuss what happened to him in the Egyptian prison.
“Honestly right now we’re just enjoying every little bit we can with him and just letting him rest. He’s still having difficulty breathing and speaking a lot, so we haven’t gotten all the nitty-gritty stuff but I’m sure we’re going to have lots of time to hear all of that,” she said.
Albaz’s release comes at a time when Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig remain detained in China, where they were recently charged with spying. Trudeau has called their arrests “arbitrary” and said Chinese officials have made it clear that their imprisonments were linked with Canada detaining Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
For anxious family members, Amal offered a word of advice: don’t give up.
“I know it’s really hard, but do not give up. Keep on fighting for their freedom, no matter how tired we are. They must be so much more tired,” she said.
“My father is not the first Canadian to be arbitrarily detained and brought home. So it is possible, just keep on fighting. The end can be in sight.”