Two Canadians imprisoned in Egypt say they were beaten and have been subjected to degrading treatment in a cockroach-ridden jail cell since being detained at the height of violent protests in Cairo last month.
Tarek Loubani, a London, Ont., doctor, and Toronto filmmaker John Greyson issued a joint statement on Saturday giving their first comments on the ordeal they have gone through since being arrested in Cairo six weeks ago.
“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,” said the statement, which was posted on a website dedicated to obtaining their release.
The pair said they went to watch the protests a few blocks from their hotel on Aug. 15 and witnessed dozens of protesters being brutally killed. Their nightmare started when they stopped for ice cream and then tried to go through a police roadblock.
“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,” the statement said.
“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.”
The pair had planned only an overnight stay in Cairo on Aug. 15 before heading to Gaza, where Mr. Loubani was to teach emergency-room medicine documented by Mr. Greyson, the statement said.
But they couldn’t get across the border due the outbreak of protests in Cairo and across the country the following day.
As they watched the violence erupt in Cairo’s Ramses Square they heard calls of “doctor.”
“(We saw) 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.”
“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,” the statement added.
The men said they witnessed more than 50 Egyptians die, adding the day’s final death toll reached 102.
The men are denied phone calls with family while attempts to get clear answers from prosecutors about why they’re being held go unanswered, the statement contends.
“We deserve due process, not cockroaches on concrete. We demand to be released,” they said.
The pair are on Day 12 of a hunger strike to protest their detention. Mr. Greyson’s sister Cecilia said Canadian consular officials visited the men two days ago and told her they are in “good health” but are tired and showing visible signs of weight loss.
Cecilia Greyson said that while the men were well aware of the toll a hunger strike would take on their bodies, their families remain worried for their health and care.
“We’re very concerned about how they’re doing and they are going to be cautious with... not eating food but we are very concerned with their health and also with their safety.”
She said the statement was dictated by the men to their lawyers and is being released in response to a Toronto Star report quoting an Egypt foreign ministry spokesman saying there is a “solid basis... to charge them in the near future.”
Egyptian prosecutors have accused Mr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an attack on a police station.
Cecilia Greyson said the accusations against the pair are trumped up and that the men are being held because of the deaths they witnessed that day in Cairo.
Foreign Minister John Baird said he raised the case in a meeting Friday night with his Egyptian counterpart.
“I appreciated the high-level engagement but impressed upon them the importance of file to the government of Canada,” Mr. Baird said on Twitter after the statement came out.
“I look forward to receiving future updates in very near future.”
There was no immediate comment from the Canadian government on the statement and the claim the pair were beaten and the conditions they are being held in.
Mr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson were informed on Sept. 15 they would be detained for another 15 days.
In the Star report, the Egyptian spokesman said the pair’s detention will continue to be extended every two weeks until the attorney general’s office finishes its investigation.
The unrest in Cairo was sparked after president Mohammed Morsi was removed from power, prompting his supporters to take to the streets.
The following is the full text of their statement:
“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"