Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Canadians John Greyson and Dr. Taraq Loubani still in a Cairo jail. The Egyptian security law can hold them for two years without charge or trial.

Film maker John Greyson and Dr. Taraq Loubani

Canadian film maker and doctor remain in a Cairo prison living with a military state of emergency. Amnesty International takes up their case.

by Tom Thorne

I don’t know if Canadians Dr. Taraq Loubani and filmmaker and York University professor John Greyson realized when they left Canada that the likelihood of getting into Gaza was about nil. The Egyptian army and the Israeli authorities have sealed the border while Egypt remains in turmoil. 

The Egyptian Army and security service doesn’t need Palestinians entering or passing through Egypt at this time. This situation was recently heightened by attacks on army bases in the Egyptian Sinai. As a result many Palestinians who normally go abroad for their education or to do business through Cairo airport cannot get out according to Aljazeera English. Nor can they get out of Gaza through Israel.

So when two Canadian activists for the Palestinian cause want to get into Gaza they are naturally caught up in this current state of affairs. To think that Dr. Loubani and John Greyson are not known to the security services of both Egypt and Israel is to be naive. Although they got into Egypt with their Canadian passports they would have been on a watch list the moment they applied for Egyptian visas in Canada.

And why did they stay in downtown Cairo? Why not stay at the airport before trying to get to Gaza? And why were they strolling about Cairo and walking into police stations to ask directions? A month ago Cairo was in an uproar with protests.  In these conditions of Egyptian unrest when were they going to make their way to Gaza and what is more important how did they intend to get there? I was in Cairo in 2010 and even in those peaceful times the centre of Cairo is a busy place that needs care to move around.

Whether you like the fact that security services have watch lists of not is irrelevant. There is heightened security in Egypt at the moment and in the Sinai where there have been attacks on the Egyptian Army post there by insurgents. Perhaps these attacks are by terrorists or simply people opposed to the Egyptian military regime but no one knows for sure. In the current state of affairs Egypt is locked down giving the police and army emergency powers to arrest and detain. 

A few years back John Greyson refused an invitation to a film festival in Israel because of his opposition to Israel’s current policies with the Palestinian Authority. That act could place him on the Israeli security watch list. His stated objective this time was to go to Gaza and make a film about Dr. Loubani’s efforts to set up emergency medical systems sponsored by The University of Western Ontario. 

A worthy goal perhaps but seen from an Egyptian and Israeli security perspective he is a potential troublemaker. In the middle east it also doesn’t help his cause that he is openly gay and has made several prominent films on this topic. Sadly, not much of the middle east is very open about anything gay. 

Despite Dr. Taraq Loubani or John Greyson’s apparent naivety about the current situation in Egypt and Gaza they are being held by a security law that can be renewed to hold them every 15 days for up to two years. That makes their life in a Cairo prison untenable and almost open ended if the current emergency law is continued. It may be arbitrary but unfortunately this law can be used to keep them under wraps. 

Dr. Loubani and John Greyson have started a hunger strike. They need to be careful that this does not cross some other boundary of Egyptian prison rules. They have been caught in a state of emergency where for the moment a fragile diplomacy is their only tangible hope combined with the usual Amnesty International moral persuasion working on their behalf. Any protests for Loubani and Greyson will probably be ignored in Egypt.

Hopefully the Canadian Embassy in Cairo can convince the Egyptian authorities that they should be simply sent home. But if they are eventually charged then they will enter the murky regions of the Egyptian court system in a time of great flux.  Further efforts should be made at the Egyptian Embassy in Ottawa. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird should call in the Egyptian Ambassador to register a strong protest that although naive these two men pose no security threat to Egypt.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to stand back from this at this time unless he is needed to open dialogues with more senior Egyptians in the future. Support from Amnesty International came this morning. See their email below:

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Here is the Amnesty International email:

Over a month in detention and a week into their hunger strike:
Please join Amnesty International in urging the release of two Canadians, Dr. Tarek Loubani and filmmaker John Greyson, who are being wrongfully detained in Egypt

Here's what we're asking:

* release Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, unless they have sufficient admissible evidence to try them before a civilian court in line with international fair trial standards and without recourse to the death penalty;

* continue to give the men access to their lawyers, families and consular representatives and any medical assistance they may require.

Two Canadians, Dr. Tarek Loubani and Prof. John Greyson, arrived in Egypt on August 15 with the intention of travelling immediately to Gaza in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Dr. Loubani was hoping to build a relationship between the university hospital in Gaza and the hospital he works for in Canada. Prof. Greyson, a filmmaker, was accompanying him to document the situation in Gaza. On arrival in Egypt the men had to stay in Cairo, as the border with Gaza was shut.

The following day, the men were in the vicinity of Ramsis Square in central Cairo where heavy clashes between security forces, supporters of Egypt’s deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, and local residents had taken place from the early afternoon to evening. They were arrested at 10pm when they approached the security forces to ask for directions to their hotel. 

The men are detained in Tora Prison, south of Cairo, where they have access to their lawyers and consular representatives. 

They are on hunger strike in protest at their continued detention in Egypt. On September 14, the Public Prosecution in Egypt extended their detention for a further 15 days following a brief investigation in Tora Prison.

Dr. Loubani and Prof. Greyson began their hunger strike, in which they receive liquids but no food, on September 16. They continue to be held on charges of “violence”, “inciting violence” and “carrying weapons”, as well as “destroying public property”. They are being held alongside hundreds of Egyptians who were arrested during the violence in Cairo on August 16.

Amnesty International is concerned that, as with the hundreds of others arrested that day, Tarek Loubani and John Greyson have been accused of a broad array of offences without apparent consideration of their individual criminal responsibility.


Alex Neve
Secretary General 
Amnesty International Canada 


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