Globe and Mail reporters Sonia Verma and Patrick Martin were detained for three hours in Cairo by the Egyptian military on Thursday.
As Ms. Verma and Mr. Martin were being released, Ms. Verma called The Globe's newsroom. The following is an edited transcript of her account. An edited audio version is above, mobile readers can click here to download the mp3.
"They're shaking our hand and telling us 'We are sorry' - the army people who detained us for the past ... three hours," she said.
In her own words:
Patrick and I were driving around the city and we went through a couple of sort of these vigilante neighbourhood checkpoints, which have become more and more aggressive over the last few days. We felt, though, that it was relatively safe to travel around. Life appeared to be returning somewhat to normal around the city. The markets were open.
As we were entering the downtown area from the area of Shubra, there was a group of about, I'd say, 10 very heavyset plainclothes people. We thought it was another vigilante group. They asked our driver for his identification, and demanded it. They then asked Patrick for his passport, demanded it. Passed it over. They asked if we were journalists. We told them that we were journalists. And they looked in my passport and they saw my visas to Afghanistan, Saudi, Yemen, you name it basically. So we couldn't really hide the fact that we were journalists. And at that point, we knew that we weren't just talking to one of these regular neighbourhood checkpoints. This was something different. They did not identify themselves as police, they didn't identify themselves as anyone. And then they took our passports away, they took our driver Adel's passport away. They then gave the passports to another man who was standing off to the side, plainclothes. He got into our car, into the passenger side. He forced our driver [Adel] directed him to drive us about … three blocks, a kilometre, I would say, away. That's when I was tweeting, I was tweeting in the backseat and Patrick was asking for our passports back. He refused to give them to us.
After he got into our car, basically commandeered our car, he forced Adel to drive us to an area … it's part of the downtown. We're close to a Coptic church. We were taken out of our car. They asked us for our cellphones. We were forced to give them our cellphones. They searched our bags. They didn't frisk us personally and they asked us to sit on the curb. Now, when we arrived there was about 20 to 25 other foreigners there, including some radio reporters from Ireland, a Canadian photographer with The National newspaper, a four-year-old girl who was travelling with her mother and her grandmother, who had been there an hour before us. They were bringing us water. They never told us how long we would be there or the reason. There was a mixture of soldiers and plainclothes.
It was not clear it was military when our car was stopped. Those people looked no different than the other [vigilantes] except for they had walkie-talkies. We couldn't see their walkie-talkies until they stopped the car. We knew they were police or some sort of security force at that point, our best guess was that they were police. But we had no idea. They were obviously some kind of secret police because they weren't wearing uniforms. We were then transferred into the custody of the army and that was clear to us because everyone was in uniform, there was a tank stationed very close to us, to where we were sitting, blocking off the street. And there was also an armoured personnel carrier with some soldiers inside. I couldn't see how many.
We were just in traffic, right, so all the cars were being stopped. Things changed once they found out we were journalists, once we were foreign journalists, especially. That's when the tone really changed. And again, that was something that we had to be upfront about because our passports are filled with journalists' visas and that was when we were separated from the rest of the crowd and the man got into the front seat and started ordering our driver where to go. He was smiling the entire time. We felt threatened by the situation, but he wasn't yelling at us or anything like that. He didn't see I was tweeting the entire time. He couldn't see.