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Harper should call Egypt personally, prisoners’ supporters say

Tarek Loubani and John Greyson.


Supporters for two Canadians detained in Egypt are reiterating calls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene, as Cairo digs in to hold the hunger-striking captives.

"We would welcome Prime Minister Harper talking to his Egyptian counterpart at this point. This detention has gone on much too long already," Cecilia Greyson said in an interview.

Ms. Greyson made her remarks as Canada's diplomatic efforts to date have come up short in terms of freeing her filmmaker brother, John Greyson, and fellow prisoner, doctor Tarek Loubani, from an Egyptian jail.

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Late Sunday evening, the Prime Minister's Office released a statement saying: "In the absence of charges, Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson should be released immediately."

This weekend, as the two marked being held without charge for 45 days, prosecutors issued an order to detain them for another 45 days. Egypt is trying to build a case against the two Canadians and hundreds of other prisoners rounded up at the same time.

The two Canadians say they had stopped over in Cairo in mid-August en route to Gaza, where they had planned to make a short film about humanitarian relief efforts. On Aug. 16, however, they were arrested after they witnessed a protest that turned deadly, as dozens of dissenters were shot.

On Saturday, the two men released a statement describing their arrest.

"Tarek snapped into doctor mode... trying to save lives, while John did video documentation, shooting a record of the carnage that was unfolding. Between us, we saw over 50 Egyptians die… "

The statement adds that, hours later, they tried to get directions from police back to their hotel.

But instead, they 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."

Foreign Minister John Baird is said to have been pressing Egypt to free the men, and did so during a face-to-face meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last week.

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"We were disappointed to learn today that Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson will remain in custody," said Lynne Yelich, a junior minister for Foreign Affairs in a statement circulated Sunday.

She added that Ottawa is calling for the release of the two Canadians and "continues to press for a timely and positive resolution to this situation. ... The well-being of Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson is our top priority. "

But such pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears. Supporters for the two men say they are sleeping on the floor of a concrete cell with six other inmates, drinking only juice and refusing food as they protest their continuing detention.

Ms. Greyson, the sister, said that Egypt-based lawyers for the two men have launched an appeal and hope to hear a response in coming days.

She said the Canadians are simply political prisoners, being held because they videotaped Egyptian government forces committing a massacre.

"We think that the continued detainment of John and Tarek has everything to do with the fact that they were witnesses," she said.

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About the Authors
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More


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