TORONTO — Two Canadians held in an Egyptian prison were completely surprised when a guard swung open their cell door and led them to freedom after seven weeks in detention, says a relative of one of the men.
John Greyson’s sister Cecilia said the Toronto filmmaker and London, Ont., Dr. Tarek Loubani had no clue that they were being freed.
“They just got a knock on the cell door and they were just sort of shuffled out of the cell,” she said her brother told her in a late-night telephone call immediately after he was released from a Cairo prison with Loubani early Sunday morning.
“He actually thought they were changing cells or going to a different prison. So he was as surprised as anyone else about their release.”
Cecilia Greyson said that when the phone rang late Saturday night she had no idea it was her brother calling from the comfort of a hotel.
“I think he just said, ‘Hi, it’s John,’ and I sort of screamed and started to cry.”
The two men were arrested on Aug. 16 during violent anti-government demonstrations in Cairo and detained in what they’ve called squalid conditions.
In her first time speaking to her brother since then, Cecilia Greyson said he told her he was in good health. She added his sense of humour shined through during their 10-minute conversation.
The men are currently in a Cairo hotel with their passports but will remain in Egypt until “red tape” is cleared allowing them to come home, Cecilia Greyson said, adding consular officials are helping them.
The Associated Press reported Sunday that the pair were prevented from flying out of Cairo after their names appeared on a “stop-list” issued by prosecutors, the news agency attributed the information to airport officials.
According to the news agency, the two men had checked in for a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, but were prevented from boarding the plane. They retrieved their luggage and were free to leave the airport, said the officials.
, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
A Foreign Affairs official would only say the Canadian government is aware of the report.
Cecilia Greyson expects the pair back within days but said they will likely need time to adjust to normal life once again.
A cousin of Loubani said his family is thrilled he has been let go.
“We are excited that he’s released finally,” Hiba Loubani said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the news of the release of the two Canadians, 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.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed her relief that the two Ontarians were free.
“Proud of everyone who worked so hard to bring them home,” she said in a Twitter post.
Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair also was satisfied the two men were freed.
“It was a really serious source of concern for all Canadians and we’re just glad that it’s done,” said Mulcair, who made the comment while attending a party event in Ottawa.
Toronto’s York University, where Greyson is a film professor, said in a statement it looks forward to Greyson’s return to teaching at the school.
Greyson and Loubani, an emergency room doctor, have said they planned to stay in the Egyptian capital only briefly on their way to Gaza last month.
They issued a statement from prison last month saying they decided to check out protests that were close to their hotel and saw at least 50 protesters killed. Loubani stopped to treat some injured protesters and Greyson filmed the carnage.
Their statement said that after leaving the scene of the protests they asked police for directions and were stopped and beaten and taken into custody.
Subsequently Egyptian prosecutors accused them of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an attack on a police station, but never laid any charges.
Cecilia Greyson said a computer specialist hired by the family revealed his email account was hacked after he was thrown in jail, adding that a Cairo-based Internet address read Greyson’s email on Sept. 9.
The two Canadians said they spent most of their time crammed with other inmates in a filthy, cockroach-infested prison cell as they awaited word on their fate.
The pair staged a 16 day hunger strike to try to pressure Egyptian officials to release them, but started eating again last week.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and other Canadian officials intensely lobbied Egyptian officials for weeks, demanding that the pair either be charged with a crime or released.
Baird spoke with his Egyptian counterpart for an hour late last month lobbying on the two men’s behalf.