Last updated: 6 October, 2013

Egypt frees two detained Canadians

Egyptian authorities have released two Canadians who had been held without charge in a crowded, cockroach-infested prison cell in Cairo since mid-August, Canadian officials said Sunday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the release of John Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker and university professor, and Tarek Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ontario.

Harper, speaking in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, said that Ottawa “welcomes this decision by the government of Egypt” to set the pair free.

“We look forward to seeing these two Canadian citizens return home in the not-too-distant future,” Harper told reporters.

The pair, who were transiting Egypt on their way to the neighboring Palestinian Gaza Strip when arrested, had not been formally charged.

They were arrested in Cairo on August 16 amid bloody clashes between security forces and Islamists that killed dozens of people

The two Canadians ended a hunger strike after winning small concessions from their jailers, a relative of one of the men said Thursday.

In Ottawa, Minister of State Lynne Yelich earlier issued a statement welcoming the 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,” the statement read.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird “and I were in contact with senior Egyptian officials on numerous occasions concerning this case,” and diplomats at the Canadian embassy in Cairo “worked tirelessly to secure their release.”

Said Yelich: “I wish to express our appreciation to the Egyptian authorities for providing consistent consular access.”

In an open letter smuggled out of prison and released in late September, Loubani and Greyson called conditions at Tora prison in Cairo “ridiculous.”

The pair described “sleeping like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches (and) sharing a single tap of earthy Nile water.”

They said they only meant to transit overnight through Egypt to get to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, but after the Rafah border closed, they decided to check out protests at Cairo’s Ramses Square five blocks from their hotel.

They said they started back to their hotel in the evening, but couldn’t find a way through police cordons and finally asked for help at a checkpoint.

“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, (and) accused of being foreign mercenaries.”

Egyptian authorities also seized their camera gear, as well as routers and several toy-sized helicopters designed for transporting medical samples, which were meant for the hospital.