After 51 days in Cairo's main prison, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani are free.
The two Canadians were arrested in Egypt on Aug 16 and spent some of their detention on hunger strike, frustrated that Egyptian officials refused to release or charge them.
The news came during Toronto's Nuit Blanche, where friends and family of the two had organized a portrait petition that encouraged supporters to add their pictures to a growing list of more than 350 others in calling for the pair’s release.
Loubani, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Western University, was on his way to a Gaza Strip hospital as part of an academic collaboration. Greyson, a professor in York University's film department, was tagging along, documenting the trip for an upcoming film.
But the footage that Greyson shot turned out to be more compelling than the two had imagined.
As the Egyptian government cracked down on Islamists protesting the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, the land border to Palestine was closed. The two Canadians, stuck in Cairo until the crossing reopened, took to the Egyptian streets to document the tumult. In a letter written from their jail cell recounting the scene, the two say the protest went from peaceful — with "the faint odour of tear gas" — to a bloody conflict that killed 102 protesters. Loubani served as field medic, while Greyson filmed the "carnage."
The two were arrested when they left the scene, after the conflict, and became lost. They picked up ice cream before finally walking into a police station to ask for directions. They say they were beaten and harassed by the police officers before being thrown into a 3-by-10 metre cell with 36 others. And some cockroaches.
They faced "a grab-bag of ludicrous charges: arson, conspiracy, terrorism, possession of weapons, firearms, explosives, attacking a police station," according to a statement from the two.
From the outset, family and friends of Greyson and Loubani anticipated a quick release. But as the days dragged on, and as an Egyptian prosecutor continued to blow off scheduled meetings to either release or formally lay charges on the Canadians, it became obvious that they would not be released so easily.
The campaign that sprung up around the two reached all across Canada and, eventually, the world. The international media focus saw everyone from Gus Van Sant to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford call for their release.
Stephen Harper, in the last days of their detention, called for their immediate release. A statement from the minister of state for consular affairs, Lynne Yelich, said that Canada is arranging travel for the two back to Canada.
During the ordeal, Canadian officials and a lawyer hired by the family made frequent visits to the jail. In the early days, the two said the detention was like a "campaign." As it dragged on, and the two swore off solid food to protest their detention and the jail's conditions, the situation got worse.
They were "sleeping like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches; sharing a single tap of earthy Nile water," the statement said.
Xtra is following this story.