"The time is always right to do what is right." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
This time of year has become Freedom Season for me. On September 21, 2011, my precious friends Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, were freed after being held hostage by the Iranian regime for 2 years and 2 months. On September 14, 2010, my other friend Sarah Shourd, was freed after 410 days in solitary confinement in the same Iranian prison. I will never forget those days. Along with all their loved ones, I could not be free until they were free.
When Sarah was freed, the sky grew larger, and I imagined how immense it would grow, when Shane and Josh joined us in the free world. Now that Josh and Shane are free, I am able to feel the growth of the world around me, with news of every political prisoner freed. On September 14, 2012, Jason Puracal, the brother of my friend Janis, was freed from Nicaragua, on September 18, 2013, Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights defender extraordinaire, was freed from Evin Prison, Iran, and on September 23, 2013, Hamid-Ghassemi Shall, husband of my friend Antonella, was freed after more than 5 years imprisoned in Iran. The joy of those hard-won battles for freedom, by people around the world, is resounding. The sky expands, creating more air for my lungs, more space to fly.
"...we were: arrested, searched, caged, questioned, interrogated, videotaped with a 'Syrian terrorist,' slapped, beaten, ridiculed, hot-boxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being foreign mercenaries...They screamed 'Canadian' as they kicked and hit us. John had a precisely etched bootprint bruise on his back for a week."
Imagine the horror and heartbreak of hearing that from your brother, son, friend?
John's sister Cecilia responded, in a statement, with "Given John and Tarek's horrendous experiences from the day of their arrest until now, we have absolutely no faith that they will receive justice at the hands of the Egyptian legal system."
Friends, colleagues, and supporters of theirs are flooding social media sites with their heartbroken and shocked responses, and the inboxes of Foreign Minister John Baird, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with calls for them to step up the pressure for Egyptian authorities to free Tarek and John.
Our shock deepened when rather than answering to their disturbing first account of their experience, and the shock expressed by people around the world, an Egyptian prosecutor ordered them detained for another 45 days, and Egypt's Foreign Ministry confirmed charges of "participating in an illegal demonstration," and suggested impending charges of espionage. With not even one phone call to their families to date. What reason do Egyptian authorities have for denying them and their families that basic humanity? Their basic human rights?
Cecilia Greyson spoke to CTV News on behalf of family members, "To have the detainment extended for another 45 days is truly awful for all of us." I am sure that is an understatement of what their families are experiencing. I imagine that, like we had to, they're checking their emotions in order to focus their energy on doing everything in their power, every moment of every day, to end their surreal nightmare.
Tarek and John are humanitarians, who have devoted their lives to improving the lives of people around the world. Tarek was "trying to save lives" in response to calls for a doctor at the protest, during their unplanned stay in Cairo. They were only there because they were unable to cross the border into Gaza, where they planned to work on a partnership project between Western University in London, Ontario, and al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
Dr. Fahim Ali, a colleague of Tarek, feels compelled to share his experience with Tarek:
"I travelled with Tarek and 15 other medical professionals to Gaza last year to help teach a course in cardiac resuscitation. Tarek has only been practicing medicine for about 6 years. In that time he has helped develop an emergency residency program in Gaza, helped overhaul their emergency system, and taken a variety of other specialists to and from Gaza to develop and help advance medical care for the 1.8 million residents of Gaza who are under siege there. Most of this work is funded by Tarek himself. Tarek is no ordinary person. The fact that he is in a prison on Egypt without reason is not only an injustice it is a travesty."
Though Tarek knew he faced risks going to a region in conflict, his colleague Dr. Gary Joubert highlights, "It's always been important for Palestinian-born Loubani to give back to his homeland."
As someone who takes risks to give back to my homeland, Kenya, I can relate to that. As Tarek's father, Dr. Mahmoud Loubani asserts, rather than punish them, "If the Egyptian authorities...know about their mission, they should reward them and be proud of them."
Both Tarek and John are cherished by their families, friends, colleagues, and continue to inspire them while held captive in deplorable conditions, silenced, and denied due process. Every supportive action you take contributes to FREEDOM for Tarek and John, buoys their spirits, and keeps their loved ones going. Just as every action supporters took for Josh, Shane, and Sarah were beacons of hope for them, myself, and all their loved ones. So please go to tarekandjohn.com for a list of actions you can take to reach out, hug them, and pull them home.