On Sunday, as Olivia Ward immediately reported in the Toronto Star, the detention of filmmaker John Greyson and physician Tarek Loubani at the notorious Tora prison in Egypt was extended for another 45 days: “Up until then, their detention had been extended three times, but each time for 15 days. The decision to make that an additional month and a half is the most severe ruling yet.”
Greyson and Loubani, both Canadian, never intended to spend more than one night in Egypt. They were headed to Gaza, where Loubani volunteers at Al-Shifa Hospital, and Greyson planned to shoot a short film about his work. “We arrived in Cairo on [August] 15th with transit visas and all the necessary paperwork to proceed to our destination,” Greyson and Loubani themselves report in a statement posted by Cecilia Greyson, John’s sister, and Justin Podur, both of whom have been working tirelessly for their release. Greyson and Loubani describe what happened the following day:
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.
By all accounts, Greyson and Loubani are about two weeks into a hunger strike now. But their statement, Cecilia Greyson reports, has raised a fresh wave of media awareness. When I saw David D. Kirkpatrick‘s story in the New York Times, it was on the front page of the online edition, even with the U.S. government shutdown coverage going full blast. As Kirkpatrick wryly notes of the letters being smuggled out of Tora prison, they “illustrate a new willingness to subject Westerners to the same treatment that Egyptians receive, rights advocates said, even as the military-backed government that ousted the elected Islamists seeks to convince the West that it will build a modern democracy.”
The Canadian Prime Minister’s Office is calling for the immediate release of Greyson and Loubani. If you haven’t signed the petition yet, please do. And if you’d like to do more, Indiewire‘s Peter Knegt lists a few options.