On September 24, cries of “Free John and Tarek!” rang out from a group of around 120 supporters gathered outside the Egyptian consulate in Montreal. The solidarity protest marked the 39th day of the arbitrary detainment of Canadians Tarek Loubani and John Greyson in Cairo, Egypt.
Both Greyson, a filmmaker, and Loubani, an emergency room medical doctor, were arrested by Cairo police on August 16 as they were en route to the Gaza Strip through Egypt. According to family and friends, Loubani and Greyson were travelling to Gaza to work together on an academic and medical collaboration between the University of Western Ontario and Al-Shifa hospital, the main hospital in the Gaza Strip.
As the pair stopped at a local Egyptian police station to ask for directions, according to a website set up by friends and family in support of Loubani and Greyson, they were promptly arrested with no solid charges and put in the Tora Prison, just outside of Cairo.
More than 140,000 people have signed an online petition calling for their release, while high-profile stars took up the cause at the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite the surge of support, including rallies elsewhere in Canada, and media attention, the two remain imprisoned.
Two attendees at the rally, Debbie Margetson and Martha Newbigging, are both friends of Greyson and Loubani, and voiced their disbelief that either of the men would do anything to be arrested.
“We know them personally,” Margetson said, adding that she believed that they were doing nothing but travelling to Gaza to work on the collaboration. “So it’s all the more frustrating and infuriating to know that we know for sure they’re being held without just cause. They weren’t going to do any harm to Egypt, it was a cross-over to get to Gaza.”
According to Justin Podur, the duo’s close friend and emergency contact for the trip, who spoke at the rally, the response from the Egyptian government has been disappointing.
“I think what’s going on in Egypt right now […] there’s an emergency law. They’ve arrested dozens of people. It’s a climate where they’re in a very aggressive kind of mentality and they are not seeing any cost to them for imprisoning people for any period of time. It is not a concern for them,” Podur told the press in an interview.
As of September 16, both Loubani and Greyson have been on a hunger strike in order to pressure both Egyptian and Canadian authorities for their release – but have had little success so far.
According to speakers at the rally, Egypt’s deputy Prime Minister will be in Toronto on a private visit this week to discuss Canada and Egypt’s economic relationship. Supporters of Loubani and Greyson questioned why the government was not making the arbitrary detainment of the two Canadians a major issue.
At the rally, Michael Dworkind, a doctor and colleague of Loubani, asserted that the lack of action was political. “Because they were going to Gaza in an attempt to publicize against injustice in the occupied territory, they are seen as anti-Israel and our government is pro-Israel, so they are turning their backs on [John and Tarek],” Dworkind said at the rally.
At the rally, speakers such as Cecilia Greyson, John Greyson’s sister, colleagues of Greyson and Loubani, and Manon Massé, a member of Québec solidaire (QS), called for increased action from both the Canadian and Egyptian governments.
Among the speakers was the award-winning filmmaker Michel Marc Bouchard, a colleague of Greyson. Bouchard’s eloquent speech in French summed up the general feelings of the crowd: “What kind of nation allows one of its most significant artists to be left in such a situation? What kind of nation lets a doctor, who has dedicated his life to helping people, rot away in one of the worst prisons in the world?”
Massé also announced that QS would be presenting a motion to the National Assembly later in the week to support Loubani and Greyson, and to further pressure the federal government to continue pushing Egyptian authorities to release the two men.
Friends and family vowed that if the two were not released, there would be further protests in solidarity.
“We will not stop fighting for their human rights,” said Andrew Jones, a friend and colleague of Loubani. “We will not stop demanding for their immediate release. We will not forget them. We will only get louder.”
With files from Dana Wray.