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Gay filmmaker John Greyson remains in Egyptian prison

Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs 'very concerned'

Gay filmmaker John Greyson was arrested in Cairo on Aug 16. Credit: Adam Coish
John Greyson on his decision to boycott a Tel Aviv gay film festival in 2009.

Authorities are still holding two Canadians detained in Cairo after Egypt's “Day of Rage,” including noted Toronto gay filmmaker John Greyson.

Department of Foreign Affairs staff say they have been in touch with local authorities, as well as the families of the two, noting they are "very concerned."

Consular Affairs Minister Lynne Yelich released a statement Aug 18 saying she "spoke with a senior Egyptian official to request confirmation of the nature of the charges and call for all evidence against the two Canadians to be released."

While the prison where the two are being held has already begun releasing some prisoners, it's not clear when the two will be freed. A friend of both tweeted that Canadian consular services had visited them and is still seeking information about the charges.

Greyson is being held alongside Tarek Loubani, who was en route to a Gaza hospital where he is participating in a medical exchange organized by the University of Western Ontario. Greyson, who has frequently spoken out about Israeli human rights abuses, was tagging along to shoot footage.

“We are very concerned about John’s safety,” said relatives Cecilia Greyson and Stephen Andrews in a statement.

An Arabic-language statement from the Egyptian Cinematic Syndicate — which called for Greyson's release — reported that the two had been arrested for allegedly trying to storm the Azbakiya police station.

The efforts to release them may be hobbled, as Ottawa closed its embassy amidst the violence, sending home all non-essential staff.

The two were picked up amidst violent clashes between police and supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. The clashes have left more than 600 dead in recent days, including a Toronto man who was shot by a sniper. Police arrested more than 1,000 others alongside the pair on Aug 16.

Mohammed Loubani, Tarek's brother, commented on the situation in Egypt in a statement released by a friend of the two men. “We recognize that Egypt is going through a painful transition, but arresting a physician and filmmaker and detaining them without due process is clearly a step in the wrong direction. The Egyptian transitional government has frequently repeated its commitment to democratic values and the rule of law. The continued detention of John and Tarek clearly falls short of that commitment.”

In a 2012 video interview — ahead of a retrospective of his work at TIFF — Greyson discusses how activism influences his filmmaking.  And in this 2009 video interview with Xtra, he talks about his decision to boycott Israel and pull his film, Fig Trees, from the Tel Aviv gay and lesbian film festival.