Egypt cinema syndicate calls for release of Canadian filmmaker John Greyson

John Greyson (still image from a video interview with Daily Xtra)

There is growing concern over the situation of prominent filmmaker John Greyson and an emergency room doctor Tarek Loubani – two Canadians arrested in Egypt on Friday.

The pair were in Egypt with the intention of traveling to Gaza on a long-planned visit, but as the Rafah crossing to Gaza is now closed, they remained in Cairo.

Loubani is an emergency room physician at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and “one of the architects of the Canada-Gaza academic collaboration, a project that has brought doctors from UWO to Gaza to train physicians.”

Greyson is an award-winning filmmaker who teaches at York University and has been a prominent supporter of the Palestinian campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel.

Separately on Friday, Canadian resident and Toronto pharmacist Amr Kassem, who was vacationing in Egypt with his wife and young daughter, was shot dead by a sniper, as Egyptian authorities killed hundreds and injured thousands of people protesting the army’s 3 July coup against President Muhammad Morsi.

Canadian government “very concerned”

The Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that it is “very concerned” about the situation of Greyson and Loubani, and said that consular officials had visited them in prison and were seeking “confirmation of the nature of the charges” and the evidence against them.

On Monday, York University President Mamdouh Shoukri said the university “is extremely concerned about the safety and well-being” of Greyson and Loubani and is in touch with Canadian government officials.

‘Storming police station’

Today, Egypt’s Cinematic Syndicate, the professional body for the country’s movie industry, called for Greyson’s release in a statement reported by Egyptian media that sheds more light on the possible accusations:

The Cinematic Syndicate has presented a petition that the Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat release the Canadian film director John Greyson who was detained while he near the Azbakiya police station during the Ramses Square events last Friday, on the accusation of attempting to storm the Azbakiya police station.

The petition, presented by attorney Sayyid Allam, the legal advisor to the syndicate, said that the syndicate works to protect directors whatever their citizenship when it is established that they are not involved in any violence, especially since the reason Greyson was present in the vicinity of the police station was to see and witness the events as a director and not in order to storm the Azbakiya police station.

It is unclear how the Cinematic Syndicate would have obtained this information and the Canadian government has not confirmed any such charges.

Asking for directions

Canada’s CTV network reported, citing unidentified sources, that the men were “detained when they visited a police station looking for directions to their hotel.”

The report noted that the police station “had been attacked earlier in the day, and the two men were detained at the same time several suspects in that incident were arrested.”

Meeting denied, but high-level contacts taking place

CTV said that although Canadian consular officials were supposed to visit the men again in prison on Monday, the meeting did not take place.

However, the report added, “the Egyptian ambassador to Canada was scheduled to meet with senior government officials in Ottawa Monday, while senior staffers at the Canadian embassy in Cairo were to meet with officials from Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

The news of the possible charges comes amid a harsh crackdown on the media by the Egyptian military regime, which has particularly targeted and demonized international journalists.

Support

Justin Podur, a friend and colleague of the pair, was the first to hear from the men in a brief phone call that they were being arrested, and has been posting updates on his blog and campaigning for their release.

In a statement posted on Podur’s website, family members of Greyson and Loubani spoke out:

“We are very concerned about John’s safety,” said John’s family members, Cecilia Greyson and Stephen Andrews. “We are confident that the Canadian Embassy in Cairo is doing everything they can to secure their immediate release,” they added.

“We recognize that Egypt is going through a painful transition,” said Mohammed Loubani, Tarek’s brother, “but arresting a physician and filmmaker and detaining them without due process is clearly a step in the wrong direction.”

Supporters of Greyson and Loubani have set up a website (tarekandjohn.com) and a Facebook group to raise awareness about the men’s detention and call for their immediate release.

Update, 20 August:

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has personally questioned the arrests of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, telling reporters that the government is “extremely concerned.”

“We don’t frankly know what evidence supports any such arrest, and we have expressed our concerns directly to the Egyptian government,” the Globe and Mail quoted Harper as saying.

The newspaper reported that “diplomatic pressure, including summoning Egypt’s charge d’affaires in Ottawa twice, had not yielded their release by late Monday.”

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Why would Egypt want to lock up these people? It's incomprehensible.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.