News from the Field

Canadian Filmmaker John Greyson and Doctor Tarek Loubani Freed from Egyptian Prison

On Friday, October 12, award-wining filmmaker John Greyson and emergency room physician Tarek Loubani returned to Toronto after being held for fifty days in an Egyptian jail without charges in an incident that elicited international outcry. Speaking to a crowd of press, family, and supporters at Pearson International Airport, the two men thanked everyone who had advocated for their release, saying: “We owe you our freedom.”

Greyson and Loubani had traveled to Cairo on August 15 and intended to stay there only one night before crossing into Gaza, where Greyson was to film Loubani at work training emergency doctors. Instead, the next day they learned the border was closed to travelers and went to Ramses Square to survey a demonstration against the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi. A statement they dictated to their lawyers while imprisoned describes the protest turning into a scene of unmitigated horror: “The protest was just starting—peaceful chanting, the faint odour of tear gas, a helicopter lazily circling overhead—when suddenly, calls of ‘doctor.’”

As police attacked demonstrators, killing over a hundred people, Loubani worked to help the wounded and Greyson filmed and provided assistance. After the violence had abated, they attempted to pass police cordons to return to their hotel and were instead arrested, along with six hundred other protesters. They were later accused of working against Egypt’s military government.

The two reported deplorable conditions, beatings, and torture inside the prison, which they protested by staging a hunger strike. Throughout the ordeal, supporters worldwide lobbied for Greyson and Loubani’s release.

Greyson has spent his career making films concerning gay themes; yet his partner, Stephen Andrews, intentionally avoided the media spotlight after his arrest, and friends, family, and supporters worked to ensure that news outlets would refrain from mentioning Greyson’s sexuality for fear his life would be endangered if word reached the prison. Most major global news outlets, including the New York Times and the Guardian, honored their request.

Greyson’s artistic and activist work has also frequently addressed the rights of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories—he took part in the second Gaza flotilla in 2011—and this interest led to his collaboration with Loubani, a Canadian of Palestinian descent who has traveled to volunteer in Gaza hospitals for years.

Since returning to Canada, Greyson and Loubani have continued to speak out, vowing to continue their work and to give voice to the hundreds still imprisoned.

Sergei Krishkov is an editorial intern at Afterimage and a recent graduate of the University of Rochester with a degree in literature and political science.

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