Canadian Professors Cleared of Any Wrongdoing after 50 Days in Egyptian Prison
October 15, 2013
After 50 days in Tora prison and 5 more days during which they were forced to stay in Egypt, professor of medicine Tarek Loubani and his colleague John Greyson, a professor of film, were unconditionally released and left Egypt for Canada on October 11. Professors Loubani and Greyson had traveled to Cairo on August 15, 2013, en route to Gaza but found the border crossing closed. They were arrested the following day, together with hundreds of others, when a peaceful protest in the city turned intensely violent. Although the details surrounding their arrest were not fully known until after their release, the CHR undertook their case because the men are respected academics whose colleagues and universities had attested to their excellent character and dedication to peaceful, humanitarian work, and the Egyptian government did not formally accuse them of wrongdoing.
Professor Loubani is a 32-year-old, well-respected emergency room physician and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario. He traveled regularly to Gaza to train physicians in emergency medical techniques at al-Shifa hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza, as part of a joint program with his university. Professor Greyson is a 53-year-old associate professor of film at York University and head of the University’s graduate film program. An acclaimed filmmaker, he was traveling to Gaza with Professor Loubani to conduct fieldwork for a documentary he planned to make about the hospital.
When the professors arrived in Cairo on August 15 and learned that the border crossing to Gaza had been closed, they stayed an extra day in Cairo, hoping the crossing would be reopened. On August 16, as a small peaceful protest was starting in Ramses Square, close to the professors’ hotel, they walked to the square to watch. According to the men, soon after they arrived protesters brought a man into the square who was suffering from a severe gunshot wound. Professor Loubani reportedly said he was a medical doctor and offered his help. The crowd brought the wounded man into a nearby mosque, where Professor Loubani tried in vain to stop the bleeding. For the next several hours, Professor Loubani was joined by other medical doctors and medics in treating dozens of wounded protesters. Professor Greyson filmed the events unfolding in front of them in the mosque. When the professors left the mosque, they could not get through the security barriers to their hotel. When they asked a group of plain clothed policemen for help, they were arrested along with dozens of others. The professors, together with many other detainees, were taken directly to Tora prison, where they reportedly were beaten severely and accused of being foreign instigators of the protests. The men were confined with 34 others in a severely overcrowded, cockroach-infested cell. According to Amnesty International, some 600 people were arrested in the area that day in a sweeping crackdown by the military. Hundreds were killed.
Professors Loubani and Greyson were permitted regular visits with Canadian consular officials, and they also were given access to Egyptian lawyers. Although they cooperated with the Egyptian prosecutor, answered all his questions, and provided evidence that they were passing through Cairo en route to Gaza to engage in their respective professional projects, their detention orders were extended three times. They learned that their case was being grouped with the other defendants arrested the same day, and the investigation could be lengthy. On October 6, a few days after going on a hunger strike and smuggling a statement out of prison describing their situation and the abuse they had suffered, they were released from prison, but were told that they must stay in Egypt until the investigation of all of the defendants was finished. Five days later, Egypt’s prosecutor general announced that the professors’ case had been closed and they were free to leave the country.
The CHR sent several appeals to the Egyptian authorities, as did a number of other academies participating in the H.R. Network. The Canadian government supported the professors from the start and was instrumental in gaining their release. The men’s universities, as well as the World Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and many other groups and individuals also strongly expressed their concern.