Protest movements are growing in Canada while Tarek and John's situation in Egypt worsens. via Flickr.
If filmmaker John Greyson and doctor Tarek Loubani—the two Canadian men who are currently imprisoned in Egypt—thought things were bad, then they just got a whole lot worse. This morning, the Toronto Star published a list of allegations against the two Canadian activists that include murder, “intention to kill, “using explosives against the Azbakiya police station,” and “terrorizing citizens.” The penalty if they are found guilty? You guessed it: death.
This comes on the heels of a 45-day extension in the over-crowded Tora prison for the pair where they are forced to sleep “on concrete with the cockroaches [and] share a single tap of earthy Nile water” among other hellish conditions according to a statement they made that was released over the weekend. In addition, the two have refused food for 15 days now as part of their hunger strike.
From what we know from their statement and sworn affidavits from the universities they work at, the Director’s Guild of Canada, and the Canadian Medical Association concerning their character and intentions, Tarek and John were on their way to film a documentary in the Gaza Strip when they got caught up in a clash between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opposition forces in Cairo. When Tarek heard someone scream “doctor,” he went into save-some-lives mode while John filmed it. Unable to get back to the hotel, they inquired with the police about what they should do and then, in their own words:
“That’s when we 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. Was it our Canadian passports, or the footage of Tarek performing CPR, or our ice cream wrappers that set them off? They screamed 'Canadian' as they kicked and hit us. John had a precisely etched bootprint bruise on his back for a week.”
Has it finally come to the point where we as Canadians can’t hide behind our Canadian flag patch?
Once upon a time, you could walk around pretty much anywhere in the globe with your Canadian passport and boast about how Canada founded peacekeeping, how we stand up for human rights and are generally fun to have a beer with—not like those loud, nosey Americans and Brits.
But if Tarek and John’s imprisonment in Egypt is really as baseless as they claim and they aren’t being excused for the maple leaf on their passport, then our actions on an international level are starting to take a toll.
From the massive scale-back of our peacekeeping efforts across the globe, to our lost UN Security Council seat due to our unconditional support of Israel and questionable Middle-East foreign-policy approach, to our rocky relations with the UN, perhaps the rest of the planet is starting to take note of our slipping reputation.
Then again, according to a recent GlobeScan poll, Canada is the “second most popular country” after Germany in a poll of 25 countries including Egypt—whatever that means.
As a Canadian who travels abroad, I want to know my government will have my back if I ever find myself in the same terrifying situation as Tarek and John.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird say our government is doing “everything we possibly can” to get Tarek and John out, but their rhetoric lacks desperation and is not satisfying John and Tarek’s supporters who have over 146,000 signatures for their petition to get the government to step in.
While the Prime Minister’s Office did make a statement on Sunday that went like this: "In the absence of charges, Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson should be released immediately," it lacked the oomph a statement from Harper himself would carry.
According to a lawyer for the two men in Cairo, the Egyptian government is “quite sympathetic” to their case, but “it does not interfere with the judiciary.”
On the contrary, John Greyson’s sister Cecelia believes Egypt has “political motivations” for detaining them based on the brutality they witnessed at the protest on August 16th. On that day, about 100 people died including one woman who died from suffocation after tear gas was launched into the mosque that she was in.
140 other Egyptians are being accused of the same kind of “grab-bag of ludicrous charges: arson, conspiracy, terrorism, possession of weapons, firearms, explosives, attacking a police station,” according to Tarek and John’s statement.
In total, at least 3,000 people have been detained in Egypt since July 3rd, while only 600 of them have been let go according to Amnesty International.
Those numbers certainly don’t make Tarek and John’s situation seem any less grim. Besides the fact that Egyptian prosecutors have continued to deny pleas to formally charge the men, documents backing up their story and Greyson’s video of the protest are not being accepted as an alibi.
As with other instances where people from developed countries get entangled in local conflicts abroad, it’s a fair statement to say that these stories get more of a rise out of the media, international community and celebrities than, say, two Syrian refugees getting mistreated in Egypt would. But it doesn’t appear like whoever is controlling the Egyptian authorities right now gives a shit what passport you hold. According to this article in the New York Times that discusses the treatment of Westerners in Egyptian prisons, seven Westerners—two Canadian, one American, and four Irish—are currently caught up in the latest wave of Egyptian chaos.
Whatever nationality you are, if you put journalist or media as your job title and are carrying a camera—like Greyson was doing when he was arrested—you might want to stay the hell away from Egypt. Reporters Without Borders reported on Sept 2 that since July 3rd, “a total of five journalists have been killed, 80 journalists have been arbitrarily detained (with seven still held) and at least 40 news providers have been physically attacked by the police or by pro-Morsi or pro-army demonstrators.” A month later, I doubt that number has gone down.
Hopefully this situation has a happy ending soon, because as a news-gathering Canadian who likes to travel, the ongoing saga of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani is painting a very dim picture for the future of Canadian reporters and relief workers abroad.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @JoelBalsam