Canadian Academics Held in Egypt Declare Hunger Strike
Two Canadian academics arrested in Cairo en route to a Gaza Strip hospital in mid-August began a hunger strike on Monday to protest their month-long detention without charges.
Tarek Loubani, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Western University, in Ontario, and John Greyson, an associate professor of film at York University, in Toronto, have been detained since August 16 and held at the Tora prison in Maadi, as previously reported in Al Fanar. That is the same prison where Hosni Mubarak was detained and where many Muslim Brotherhood supporters and suspected sympathizers are now held.
The men were on their way to a hospital where Loubani was doing volunteer work and Greyson was going to start working on a documentary about the project. They were driving around Cairo at the time when the military and police were involved in clashes with the Muslim Brotherhood. The two men stopped at a police station to ask for directions and were arrested.
“They were at the wrong place and the wrong time,” says Heba Morayef, director of the Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, noting their ongoing detention means someone in the security agency believes they were involved in the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests.
“Belief is enough in this case,” she says. “Their case highlights the fact there are a lot of arbitrary arrests.”
Thousands of people were arrested since mid-August as Egypt’s military and transitional government unleashed a violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters. A French citizen, a teacher and longtime Cairo resident, was arrested for a curfew violation in an upscale neighborhood, Zamalek, and beaten to death by his cellmates on Monday, according to an Agence France Presse report, reflecting heightened security and anti-foreigner sentiment since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the military’s backlash against Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
While the state of emergency and curfew remain in place, the violence in Cairo has subsided since last month and the military operations are now mostly limited to Sinai Peninsula.
Yet Loubani and Greyson remain in prison, despite diplomatic pressure and a social media campaign for their release by high-level Canadian officials, their family and supporters in Egypt, Canada, and many other countries.
“We can only imagine the anguish that John and Tarek feel after realizing that their detention could be extended for so long in what can only be described as an arbitrary process that lacks any credibility,” said Cecilia Greyson, sister of John Greyson, in a statement. “We know that they did not take the decision to begin a hunger strike lightly, and we want them to know we will do everything we can to support them and get them home soon.” According to Egyptian law, detainees can be held for up to two years in prison without charges.
Tarek Loubani is the Division of Emergency Medicine at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “He was on his way to Gaza to continue his humanitarian work with the Al-Shifa Hospital,” says Keith Marnoch, media director at Western University, in an email. “He has made this trip several times, providing medical treatment and training with the aim of improving emergency medicine at that hospital, in keeping with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s commitment to provide outreach to improve medical care around the world.”
A change.org petition for their release garnered international support from human rights organizations and celebrities including Alec Baldwin, Arundhati Roy, Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron.
John Greyson’s students produced a video in late August in support of their professor’s release.