TORONTO (AP) — Two Canadians released from an Egyptian prison after being held without charges since mid-August were barred from flying out of the country on Sunday, Cairo airport officials said.
John Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker and York University professor, and Tarek Loubani, a physician from London, Ontario, had checked in for a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, but were prevented from boarding the plane after their names appeared on a “stop-list” issued by prosecutors, the airport officials said.
The two Canadians retrieved their luggage and were free to leave the airport, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
The Canadian Foreign Affairs department said Greyson and Loubani were released from an Egyptian prison on Sunday morning.
Greyson’s sister, Cecilia, told The Associated Press that Canadian consular officials were dealing with what she called “red tape” so they could begin their trip back to Canada.
“Until they are safely back in Canada we are just going to be a little bit on edge,” she said. “We’ve had contact with them throughout the day today. We’re relieved they are out of prison. We’re immensely encouraged by that.”
She said the two are in a safe and secure location waiting patiently to get out. They have been in regular contact via phone and email, she said.
She said the the pair were surprised when a guard swung open their cell door and led them to freedom because they had no clue that they were being released.
“They just got a knock on the cell door and they were just sort of shuffled out of the cell,” she said. “He actually thought they were changing cells or going to a different prison.”
Adria Minsky, a spokeswoman for Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs, said in an emailed statement that they were “aware of these reports” that the Canadians were not allowed on their flight and said “Canadian embassy officials continue to provide consular assistance to facilitate their departure from Egypt.”
“We look forward to seeing these two Canadians return home shortly,” Minsky said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the news of their release, issuing a statement from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur where he’s continuing a visit aimed at strengthening ties with that Southeast Asian nation.
“The government of Canada has obviously been pushing for that and welcomes this decision by the government of Egypt and we look forward to seeing these two Canadian citizens return home in the not too distant future.”
Loubani and Greyson got caught up in the unrest surrounding the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a coup. They had been planning to travel to Palestinian-ruled Gaza, where Loubani was to teach emergency room medicine and Greyson was considering producing a documentary.
The pair had been held without charges since Aug. 16 when they were arrested while observing a pro-Morsi demonstration in Cairo in which the Canadians said they saw at least 50 protesters killed.
The two Canadians said Loubani heeded a call for a doctor and began treating wounded demonstrators while Greyson recorded the unrest on video. They said they were arrested and beaten after leaving the scene of the protests.
The pair released a statement from prison last month saying they were beaten and subjected to degrading treatment in the Egyptian prison. They said they spent most of the time crammed with other inmates in a filthy, cockroach-infested prison cell.
The pair staged a 16-day hunger strike to try to pressure Egyptian officials to release them, but started eating food again last week.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird had warned Egypt that their detention was a significant threat to relations between the two countries.
“Minister Baird and I were in contact with senior Egyptian officials on numerous occasions concerning this case, and the Embassy of Canada to Egypt worked tirelessly to secure their release,” Yelich said in her statement.
Cecilia Greyson said she thinks the stepped up pressure and the threat that it would harm relations helped win their release.
Associated Press writer Hamza Hendawi in Cairo contributed to this report.