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‘Hi, it’s John.’ Canadian phones home after pair released from Egyptian prison

Undated photos of Toronto professor and filmmaker John Greyson, left, and London, Ont., emergency-room doctor Tarek Loubani

facebook.com and emlondon.ca

Two Canadians who were detained in an Egyptian prison for nearly two months will soon be returning to Canada.

The pair, filmmaker John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani, were released last night and are currently staying at a hotel in Cairo, according to the men's lawyer and Stephen Andrews, Mr. Greyson's friend in Toronto. After they're able to clear a few hurdles, including getting passports, Mr. Andrews expects they will be home – which could be early this week.

He learned Mr. Greyson had been released from prison last night when he received a call from him.

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"He said, 'Hi, it's John,' " Mr. Andrews recalled. "He sounded weak. They're still recovering from the hunger strike. We were just so happy to be talking so we talked about talking, how we'd been sending these messages to one another and most of his didn't get out...like when I asked him to get off the hunger strike, he'd been off the hunger strike for three days."

The two Canadians were arrested on Aug. 16 in the midst of an anti-government demonstration. They launched a two-week hunger strike to protest their unlawful arrest, which ended last week.

In the half-hour phone call he had with his friend, Mr. Andrews said the two briefly discussed what Mr. Greyson had been through and his mental health but kept the tone light. While Mr. Andrews said he's relieved Mr. Greyson is out of prison, he's still concerned for his safety.

"He's out of jail but he's not out of Egypt," he said. "Until he's home, I'm still worried that things can go sideways."

A lawyer representing Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson confirmed that the two men were released from Tora Prison, south of Cairo at one in the morning local time on Sunday. Marwa Farouk, of the Shalakany Law Office, told The Globe and Mail that the men were now at unnamed hotel, and were expected to leave Egypt shortly.

Speaking through an interpreter, Ms. Farouk said that she had not seen the men but had spoken to them on the phone. She said that even she did not know when they were leaving Cairo. She added that the two men want to "leave quietly" and did not want to speak with any media before leaving Egypt.

Ms. Farouk attributed their sudden released to a formal complaint that she had lodged with Egypt's prosecutor general last Wednesday. The complaint challenged the arrest of the men. The prosecutor general ruled two days later, she said, in their favour, clearing the way for their release.

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Late Saturday night in Canada, Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs, released a statement about the Canadians' release.

"I look forward to Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson being reunited with their families and friends, who have shown tremendous strength during this difficult time," she said. "I wish to express our appreciation to the Egyptian authorities for providing consistent consular access."

In a letter that was publicly released at the end of September, Mr. Greyson and Dr. Loubani revealed they had been imprisoned in brutal conditions with dozens of other political prisoners.

"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," they wrote.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also welcomed the news of the release of the two Canadians, issuing a statement from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur where he`s continuing a visit aimed at strengthening ties with that Southeast Asian nation.

"The government of Canada has obviously been pushing for that and welcomes this decision by the government of Egypt and we look forward to seeing these two Canadian citizens return home in the not too distant future."

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Thomas Mulcair, the Leader of the Official Opposition New Democrats, expressed relief at the news that the two Canadians were no longer being held in an Egyptian jail and said there had been good co-operation between the Conservative government and the opposition parties on this matter.

"It's good news. We have worked in close contact with the government," Mr. Mulcair said after a speech to his party's national council which met in Ottawa this weekend. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird "has been very open in his dealings with me and with our Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Paul Dewar," he said, "and we are just happy that they are out. It was a really serious source of concern for all Canadians."

It is unclear when the men will be back in Canada. "There's a bunch of procedural things but I'm sure it's a bit more complicated. Who knows where their passports are and all that," Mr. Andrews said.

Mr. Greyson and Dr. Loubani, of London, Ont., were on their way to Gaza and made a brief stop in Cairo, where they were arrested.

They issued a statement from prison last month indicating they had decided to check out protests that were close to their hotel and saw at least 50 protesters killed. Loubani stopped to treat some injured protesters and Greyson filmed the carnage.

Their statement said that after leaving the scene of the protests they asked police for directions and were stopped and beaten and taken into custody.

Subsequently Egyptian prosecutors accused them of "participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood" in an attack on a police station, but never laid any charges.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and other Canadian officials intensely lobbied Egyptian officials for weeks, demanding that the pair either be charged with a crime or released.

Baird spoke with his Egyptian counterpart for an hour late last month lobbying on the two men's behalf.

They were freed on the day of national celebrations marking the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, known as the Yom Kippur War in Israel. The day was expected to reaffirm the military's hold on power, after the July 3 coup that removed the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsy.

Since the overthrow of Egypt's first democratically elected president, the country has been under state of emergency laws and, in most of the country, residents have observed a night-time curfew. Tensions between pro-Morsy supporters and the military remain high.

While thousands marched in support of the regime leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah el Sisi, the Muslim Brotherhood and anti-coup protesters also held rallies. Teargas and gunfire were used to disperse the protests.

Throughout the day, fighter jets and military helicopters passed low over thousands who had gathered in the iconic Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, the symbolic centre of Egypt's 2011 revolution which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. Clashes were reported in several areas throughout the capital, including Ramses Square. By sundown on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry was reporting that 15 people had died throughout the country.

Though he has not yet been reunited with his friend, Mr. Andrews's thoughts have now turned to the many other political prisoners in Cairo who are still locked up.

"It took us 50 days and thousand and thousands of people working tirelessly to get [Mr. Greyson and Dr. Loubani] out. I worry about the others," Mr. Andrews said.

With a report from the Canadian Press

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About the Authors

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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