Canadian Filmmaker Arrested in Egypt

John Greyson

Toronto-based director John Greyson and his traveling partner haven’t been heard from since Friday, when they called a friend to say they were being detained in Cairo.

Canadian filmmaker and activist John Greyson has been detained by Egyptian police in Cairo, according to the director’s family and friends.

At around 4 p.m. on Friday (Toronto time), which is 10 p.m. in Cairo, Greyson reportedly called a friend in Canada, Justin Podur, to tell him that he and his traveling companion, Tarek Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, were being arrested for reasons unspecified.

"He basically said ‘We’re being arrested by Egyptian police,'" Podur told the Toronto Star newspaper, noting that the conversation was hurried. "I don't know where they were arrested and I don't know where they are now."

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Greyson and Loubani are said to have been en route to Gaza, where Loubani intended to do some volunteer medical work and Greyson was planning to conduct exploratory research for a film project.

Greyson first came to notice on the festival circuit in 1993 with his film Zero Patience, which won a special jury prize at the Toronto Film Festival. He later won a Teddy at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival for his film Fig Trees, an "operatic documentary" that combines the story of an AIDS activist's work in South Africa with opera performances and sequences involving a fictional Gertrude Stein. Greyson caused some controversy in 2009 when he pulled his documentary Covered from the Toronto Film Festival in political protest of the event's inaugural City to City Spotlight on Tel Aviv and its filmmakers.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs told the Star they are aware of the arrest of a Canadian in Egypt and are coordinating with the embassy in Cairo and the local authorities to try to ascertain the whereabouts and condition of the two travelers.

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"Their plan was to travel from Egypt to Gaza," their friend Podur added. "They were in Cairo and the crossing was closed from what I understand so they stayed an extra day in Cairo and that's when they were arrested. I haven't heard from them since."

"We've got no idea of their condition or where they are right now."

Cairo has been mired in protests and deadly crackdowns since the ouster of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi last month by the military establishment. The Muslim Brotherhood, which supports Morsi, has vowed to continue making its voice heard on the streets. Hundreds already have died in the military suppressions of the protests.

Three journalists -- including a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News and a Dubai-based newspaper reporter -- were killed in the violence in Egypt last week. Several others have been reported injured.