Summary and Current Status
Canadian medical doctor and professor of medicine Tarek Loubani and Canadian professor of film John Greyson—who traveled to Cairo, Egypt on August 15, 2013, en route to Gaza but found the crossing closed—were arrested the following day in central Cairo. Initially detained for 15 days, they were issued two additional 15-day detention orders and an additional 45-day order without explanation. Hearings scheduled by the prosecutor were frequently postponed. According to the professors’ lawyers, the prosecution never provided any information about why Dr. Loubani and his colleague were in detention, and no charges were formally brought against them.
The new emergency measures put into place in Egypt meant that the professors’ detention could have been extended for up to two years without formal charges. Facing the possibility of long-term detention without access to due process, the men started a hunger strike on September 16. At the beginning of October the professors’ called off the hunger strike when they were granted a concession they had requested for extended exercise time. Also at that time, a joint statement by the professors that had been smuggled out of prison was made public by their families. In the statement they explained that, when the protests started on August 16 and a wounded person needed medical care, Dr. Loubani helped him. He reportedly continued to provide medical care to wounded people for several hours, and Professor Greyson videotaped the situation as it unfolded. The professors also stated that, when they were arrested, they were beaten, stripped, had their heads shaved, were accused of being foreign mercenaries, and were thrown into a severely overcrowded cell infested with cockroaches where they were held for several weeks. On October 6, Professors Loubani and Greyson were released from prison.
When Professors Loubani and Greyson were given back their passports, they attempted to leave Egypt, but were turned back by airport officials who told them that they had been put on a “stop-fly” list by the prosecutors in their case. Although the professors’ families said that the men had documentation stating that their releases were “without conditions”, a spokesperson for the Egypt’s prosecutor-general stated that Professors Loubani and Greyson were still under investigation and that, because their case was part of a larger investigation with a number of other defendants, their case could not be closed until the full investigation is completed. Five days later, on October 11, the prosecutor general closed the professors’ case and allowed them to leave the country. They arrived home in Canada the following evening.
Professor Loubani had been traveling to Gaza to train physicians at al-Shifa hospital as part of a joint program with his Canadian university. Professor Greyson, an acclaimed filmmaker, was traveling to Gaza to work on a documentary about the hospital. Hoping that the crossing to Gaza would be reopened shortly, they stayed in Cairo. The next day, August 16, amidst an outbreak of intense violence in central Cairo, the men were unable to navigate back to their hotel. The professors asked for help at a security checkpoint and were promptly arrested. They were held in Tora prison along with several hundred Egyptian men, women, and children and several other foreign nationals caught up in the violent clashes.
Tarek Loubani is a 32-year-old, well-respected emergency room physician and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. In line with the Schulich School’s commitment to the provision of medical outreach to improve medical care around the world, Dr. Loubani traveled regularly to Gaza to train physicians in emergency medical techniques at the al-Shifa hospital as part of a joint program with his university. John 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.
The two Canadian professors traveled to Cairo on August 15, 2013, en route to Gaza. When they arrived and learned that the border crossing to Gaza was closed, they stayed an extra day in Cairo in the hope that 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 observe. According to the men, the protesters brought a man suffering from a severe gunshot wound into the square. Professor Loubani said that he was a medical doctor and offered to help. The crowd brought the wounded man into a nearby mosque, where Professor Loubani tried in vain to stop the bleeding. For the next approximately four hours, Professor Loubani was joined by other medical doctors and medics in treating dozens of badly wounded protesters. Professor Greyson filmed the events unfolding in front of them in the mosque. When the professors left the mosque, they could not find their way through the security barriers to their hotel. When the professors sought help at a security checkpoint, they were promptly arrested. According to Amnesty International, 97 people died in the violence that day; and, during and after the clashes, the security forces conducted “widespread random arrests” of more than 650 people, including women and children, on accusations of “destroying public property“, “inciting violence”, “violence”, and “carrying weapons”, “without apparent consideration of their individual criminal responsibility.”
Professors Loubani and Greyson were visited several times by Canadian consular officials and had regular access to their Egyptian lawyers. We understand that the professors cooperated with Egyptian government officials, answered questions, and provided evidence that they were passing through Cairo en route to Gaza to engage in their respective professional projects. According to their lawyers, no evidence was presented that the men committed any wrongdoing. Thus their arrests appeared to be arbitrary. The men, who were severely beaten upon arrival at Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo, were kept there in a severely overcrowded cell. In response to a request by Canadian consular officials, Professors Loubani and Greyson were transferred in September from a hot and overcrowded cell to one with fewer prisoners.
The CHR and a number of other academies that participate in the international H.R. Network wrote letters of appeal to the Egyptian authorities. The World Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association both expressed concern about the professors’ detention as well. The president of York University issued a statement calling for their release, as did the faculty of the University of Western Ontario. Other Canadian university presidents reached out to their counterparts in the Egyptian academic community, who in turn voiced support for the Canadian professors. The Canadian government issued a formal statement of concern about the arrest of the two professors and called for their release. Canadian officials believe that the professors were arrested solely because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Canadian Embassy in Egypt was instrumental in obtaining the professors’ release.