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News / September 16, 2013

A Month into Egyptian Detention, John Greyson Begins Hunger Strike

John Greyson during happier times at the Berlinale in 2011. John Greyson during happier times at the Berlinale in 2011.

Canadian artist and filmmaker John Greyson and emergency room physician Tarek Loubani have informed friends and supporters through their Egyptian lawyers that they will be refusing food beginning today, September 16, to protest the arbitrary nature of their detention by Egyptian authorities.

Greyson and Loubani, who were transiting through Cairo on their way to Gaza where Loubani was carrying on a medical aid project, and Greyson was preparing for a film project, have been detained in Cairo’s Tora prison for the past 31 days.

A release from Greyson and Loubani’s friends and supporters indicates that the detention could be extended up to 2 years without formal charges being laid.

“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,” John’s sister Cecilia Greyson said in the release. “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.”

Last week at TIFF, filmmaker Sarah Polley led a push for awareness about Greyson and Loubani’s plight, wearing and distributing buttons that read #freetarekandjohn. Atom Egoyan and Michael Ondaatje also spoke at a press conference on the cause’s behalf.

In the last few days, Amnesty International also issued a call for urgent action on the case. The call notes that “the men have been charged with a broad array of offenses without apparent consideration of their individual criminal responsibility.”

Thomas Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, says that he would like to see more action on the part of the Canadian government. The Montreal organization is one of many calling for Greyson and Loubani’s release.

“The first week or so [of the detention], there was a sense of ‘How could this happen?'” Woodley said in a phone interview. He says that initially it seemed like consular visits might also be making progress. “But they’ve gone past the 30 day mark now. There has been time to sort out the confusion. We think it’s time for the Canadian government to get serious.”

A petition calling for the release of the two Canadians has received 115,000 signatures to date. Signatories to a letter calling for John and Tarek’s release include Alec Baldwin, Arundhati Roy, Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, and Danny Glover.

Woodley says that all kinds of pressure are welcome in terms of trying to help Greyson and Loubani’s case turn a corner.

He also says that Canada had more than a billion dollars of trade with Egypt in 2011, and that trade pressure is something he would like to see applied until Egypt’s human rights record improves.

“No one should have to suffer this [type of detainment], whether you be Egyptian or Syrian or Canadian or Saudi,” Woodley says. “But we have the ability to influence things to a certain degree on the Canadian side, and we would like to mobilize the Canadian support as much as possible.”

Frequent updates are available at the Free Tarek and John website.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via