Canadians Imprisoned in Egypt Indefinitely After Filming Military Brutality
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Friday, August 16, Egyptian police officers arrested two Canadians. One of them was an emergency room doctor, Tarek Loubani, and the other a filmmaker and York University professor, John Greyson. They had intended to travel immediately to Gaza after arriving in Egypt on August 15 but were delayed by a volatile domestic situation. They are still being held in Egyptian prison.
With us to discuss their detention is Justin Podur. He’s an author and associate professor at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and one of the organizers in the campaign to free Tarek and John.
Thanks for being with us, Justin.
JUSTIN PODUR, WRITER, ANALYST, AND BLOGGER: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So Tarek and John were heading to Gaza when they were seized by Egyptian police. Why were they heading to Gaza? And what happened in Egypt that resulted in them being detained?
PODUR: Tarek is a doctor at the University of Western Ontario’s emergency department, and over the past couple of years, Tarek has developed an exchange program between that department and the Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital Gaza. So he’s trained people in–physicians in Gaza on advanced trauma life support and advanced cardiac life support, and he’s brought other doctors from that emergency department in London, Ontario, to Gaza to do these trainings. He also volunteers there several months of the year.
So he started to try to bring other academics and other kinds of folks to Gaza to see what’s going on. John Greyson was interested in going to potentially make a short film about the emergency work at Al-Shifa Hospital. So that was their objective. They were planning to go to Gaza.
They landed in Cairo on the 15th. Your viewers may know that really Egypt is the only way that people can get to Gaza now. It used to be possible to go through Israel, but Israel has totally closed that option off. So Egypt is really the only way people can get to Gaza, including humanitarians, doctors like Tarek or media people. So they were planning to go to Gaza on the–they arrived on the 15th, but they were not able to go to Gaza on the 15th ’cause of the border was closed. They stayed on an extra day, and they went outside their hotel.
Their hotel is near Ramses Square, where there was a lot of unrest that day. They were walking close to their hotel, about five blocks away from their hotel, they said, when people came to them and said, we need a doctor. So Tarek started to treat people. And they said that over the course of that afternoon of the 16th, they personally saw 50 people die from head wounds and neck wounds–they’d been shot. And John was filming some of this or a lot of this.
So then that afternoon, after this kind of carnage that they witnessed and Tarek trying to save lives, they were trying to get back to their hotel. Curfew had fallen. They were trying to get out. And everywhere they tried to exit the area they were in, there was police cordon and police checkpoints. They went up to a police checkpoint, they identified themselves, and they said, we’re trying to get home, we’re trying to get to our hotel. And then the police arrested them.
And they released a statement describing what happened upon their arrest, and it involved a lot of abuse, a lot of beatings. The police shouted, “You Canadians,” as if it was some kind of insult, while they were beating them and kicking them. They hot-boxed them. So there was this incredibly abusive arrest followed by a transfer to Tora Prison, where they’ve been for the past 46 days.
DESVARIEUX: And, Justin, there’s also this news item that’s been trending in Canadian media. Basically, the headlines are saying that the Egyptian authorities might be charging them with murder. Can you confirm this? And also will you please bring us up to speed on their current situation?
PODUR: What the Egyptians have done is they’ve arrested–they’ve said that they’re planning to charge all 600 of these people with a wide range of things–murder, attempted murder, belonging to an illegal armed group, storming a police station. There’s a whole range of what Tarek and John themselves have called a grab bag of ludicrous charges, and they’re not specific to any one of the people that have been imprisoned. They’ve basically just said, we’re charging all these people with all of this stuff. And this is an announcement that they’re investigating people for these charges, but they haven’t actually laid these charges. So from a legal standpoint, this is basically a grab bag of accusations that they’re throwing at all of these people that they arrested on this day.
So it wouldn’t be something to take very seriously if the Egyptian legal system was a serious kind of functional legal system. Unfortunately, it’s far from that. And so it’s quite a fear-inducing situation as a result, because we have no idea what the logic behind this is. We only know that the Egyptian authorities don’t seem to be very concerned with evidence or legal procedure. They seem to be intent on fairly sadistic psychological games and trumped up charges.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s pivot to Canadian politics. Some critics are saying that Harper’s strong support of Israel may have something to do with his previous inaction in releasing Mr. Greyson and Dr. Loubani. So what do you make of this now that Harper has essentially come out and said that, quote, in the absence of charges, Dr. Loubani he and Mr. Greyson should be released immediately? Now that Prime Minister Harper has made a statement, do you expect more to happen?
PODUR: Yeah. I think that statement, you know, from the perspective of the families of John and Tarek, that was a welcome statement. There’s still a problem, though, which is, like all of the previous statements by Foreign Minister Baird, the statement by Prime Minister Harper still leaves a giant loophole through which an unjust legal system like Egypt’s can drive through. And that loophole is absent charges. And in a way, when you have these trumped up and bizarre accusations being leveled at all these people, to say we want them to either be charged or released is kind of an invitation to this kind of irrational legal system to invent a bunch of accusations that they can charge them with. So really we need Prime Minister Harper to say Tarek and John should be released unconditionally and stop giving the Egyptian authorities this loophole.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And just really quickly, Justin, I know tens of thousands of people have already signed a petition. What else is planned in the campaign to free John and Tarek?
PODUR: Well, the thing is, once you’ve asked a bunch of times, the way the Canadian government has asked, it’s time to start trying to think of how to actually make that–put some force behind that. And Canada is a small country and it doesn’t have a lot of influence in the world, but Canada does have the export development corporation, which gives money to corporations to export, you know, to Egypt. There’s $145 million that the export development corporation has given to companies trading with Egypt in the past year and a half alone. There are other corporations that do work in Egypt. There’s Egyptian tourism. Tourism is a huge part of Egypt’s economy. So there are a lot of things that if Canada wanted to do and if friends of Tarek and John and friends of ours want to do in the United States and elsewhere, they can do. And we’re going to look at those things in the coming days and weeks.
DESVARIEUX: We’ll certainly be tracking this story in the coming days and weeks as well. Thank you so much for joining us, Justin.
PODUR: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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