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Daughter of Canadian man detained in Egypt begs Trudeau to intervene

Read here: https://www.trtworld.com/mea/daughter-of-canadian-man-detained-in-egypt-begs-trudeau-to-intervene-24600

Last month as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el Sisi was mingling with senior European leaders in the resort city of Sharm el Sheikh, a 24-year-old Amal Ahmed was busy in Canada mobilising support for her father who had been detained by the Egyptian authorities. 

After a short business trip, Yasser Ahmed Albaz, 51, was about to board a Canada-bound flight on February 18 at the Cairo International Airport when his passport was taken away and his bags brought down from the plane. 

“At 10 o’clock he wrote on our family Whatsapp group that he loved us. We didn’t hear from him for a week,” Amal told TRT World over the phone from her home in Oakville, Ontario, where the family of five has lived for 20 years. 

Initially, the Egyptian authorities denied Albaz was in their custody.  Then he was brought before the prosecutor a week later. 

“He hasn’t been charged with anything,” says Amal.

Amal Ahmed, a former Toronto Star reporter, has pleaded Canadian government to intervene in securing her father's release.
Amal Ahmed, a former Toronto Star reporter, has pleaded Canadian government to intervene in securing her father’s release. (Getty Images)

The family’s biggest concern is that Albaz is being kept at the Tora Prison, which is notorious as a place where prisoners are routinely tortured. 

Amal says she and her family travels to Egypt regularly. “We were there just last summer to celebrate my younger sister’s engagement. Nothing like this has ever happened. We have never been questioned or anything like that.”

The Egyptian government is accused of arbitrarily arresting thousands of political and civil rights activists on fabricated charges.

While American and European lawmakers have voiced concerns over human rights violations, their governments continue to back Sisi, a former military commander who came to power in a coup in 2013. 

Since then the Egyptian military has used brutal force to stifle any sort of dissent – often with the indirect backing of its western allies. 

In January 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron was in Egypt where he defended France's security collaboration with Sisi's government.
In January 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron was in Egypt where he defended France’s security collaboration with Sisi’s government. (Getty Images)

Double standards

The EU’s commitment to human rights, especially its staunch opposition to capital punishment, came under the spotlight last month when its senior leadership, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, attended the first EU-Arab League summit in Sharm el Sheikh. 

In the month of February alone Egypt executed 15 men after trials which the United Nations and other human rights organisations termed ‘unfair’. 

It has made some European lawmakers question the close ties with Sisi’s government. 

“We cannot deny the fact that holding of the summit in Egypt at the court of the Pharaoh Al Sisi, has recognised, by default, the authority of the Egyptian dictator,” Pier Antonio Panzeri, a member of the European Parliament, told TRT World

Panzeri, an Italian, heads the EU’s Subcommittee on Human Rights which has been pressing Egypt to solve the case of Giulio Regeni, the young researcher who was murdered in Cairo in 2016.

Paola, the mother of Giulio Regeni, speaks at a press conference in Rome on March 29, 2016.
Paola, the mother of Giulio Regeni, speaks at a press conference in Rome on March 29, 2016. (AP)

“It thus seems absurd that the heads of European governments can truly believe the promises made by the Egyptian leader,” said Panzeri. Particularly, he added, when Sisi is seeking to amend the constitution to extend his rule and his government had just executed so many people.

EU leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron consider Egypt important in fighting terrorism and stemming the flow of refugees. 

France has become Egypt’s largest supplier of military equipment even as human rights organisations say that weapons meant to be deployed against terrorists are used against dissidents. 

“The alarmist political narrative (of migration) that has spread through the EU member states in recent years – especially those bordering the Mediterranean – has increased citizens’ concerns about the issue exponentially,” says Panzeri. 

“For this reason, many countries have preferred to close their eyes to the human rights situation, provided that Egypt takes responsibility for migrants from other African countries, thus acting as a barrier.”

The EU has struggled to come up with a collective response to Egypt because individual member states have their own bilateral interests to look after, he says. 

“Let us not forget that the European Union is a fundamental trading partner for Egypt, and trade can therefore be used as a tool to force the North African country to meet certain standards in the field of human rights.”

Egypt has even detained US citizens, which gives over a billion dollars in military and economic aid to Sisi’s government every year. 

Hosam Khalaf and Ola al Qaradawi, both from the United States, have been in an Egyptian prison since June 2017 without any charges

Washington also looks at its decades-old ally from the prism of security.  

Amid these varying policy interests, Amal is hoping for her father’s return. “It has been a shock for us and I hope the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will take up the issue.”

‘I want my father home’: Family of man detained in Egypt calls on Canada to intervene

Read here: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/i-want-my-father-home-family-man-detained-egypt-calls-canada-intervene

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government has been accused of using arbitrary detention to silence its critics (Reuters/File photo)

The family of an Egyptian-Canadian man detained in Egypt for almost two weeks has called on the “highest levels” of Canada’s government to intervene, saying they fear for the safety of Yasser Ahmed Albaz.

In a news conference on Thursday morning in Ottawa, Albaz’s daughter, Amal, said her family has been living a nightmare since 18 February, when Albaz was detained at Cairo International Airport.

“Our lives have turned upside down. Our pain is like a cloud that’s constantly hovering over us … We’re all impacted by this storm,” she told reporters.

“We need the Canadian government to intervene at the highest levels and bring my father home.”

Albaz, a 51-year-old engineer and businessman, was detained at the airport in Cairo as he attempted to return to Canada from a business trip. At first, the Egyptian authorities denied he was in their custody, his family said.

“My father was subjected to enforced disappearance for days,” Amal said.

The family was able to confirm Albaz’s whereabouts when he was taken to the Egyptian state security prosecutor’s office for questioning on 23 February, they said in a statement earlier this week.

He was interrogated again a few days later, on 26 February.

He now is being held at the notorious Tora prison facility in the capital, and his family says they expect him to be questioned again on Saturday.

“Until this moment, my dad continues to be detained at one of the worst prisons in the world. He is sleeping on a concrete floor, without a blanket,” Amal said.

Fears of abuse, mistreatment

Albaz’s family and supporters in Canada also raised concerns on Thursday about the conditions he may be facing in Egyptian detention.

The Egyptian government under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been accused of myriad human rights violations, including the use of torture in order to coerce confessions from detainees.

Human rights groups have described the country’s justice system as deeply flawed, pointing to a widespread lack of due process.

On Monday, a Canadian government spokesman told MEE in an email that “consular services are being provided to a Canadian citizen who has been detained in Egypt and to their family”.

The spokesman said further details could not be provided in light of Canada’s privacy laws.

Ahmed Abdelkader, chairman of the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy, an advocacy group, said while consular services are important, the Canadian government must escalate its diplomatic pressure on Egypt to secure Albaz’s release.Egypt: Executed prisoners had said they were forced to confess to prosecutor’s killingRead More »

“[Albaz] is not the first Canadian to be arbitrarily detained by the current Egyptian regime. Despite lessons learned from past cases, we are concerned that Canadian officials don’t appear to be treating the case with the urgency that it warrants,” Abdelkader said.

Speaking at the news conference on Thursday, he said that to his knowledge, Albaz has not been charged with a crime.

“A Canadian citizen is being arbitrarily held without charge by a brutal regime known for torture and abuse of prisoners,” Abdelkader said.

“It is imperative that [Canadian officials] use any leverage they have in these relations [with Egypt] to secure Yasser’s release. Every moment’s delay increases the risk to Yasser’s safety.”

That was echoed by Amal, Albaz’s daughter.

“We all lost weight, we all can’t sleep – but who am I to complain? It’s my baba [father] who’s truly suffering,” she said.

“We miss you, baba … I want this storm to end. I want to see the rainbow. I want my father home.”

Canadian citizen detained in Egypt jails, says foreign ministry

Read here: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190226-canadian-citizen-detained-in-egypt-jails-says-foreign-ministry/

Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Foreign Minister [Twitter]
Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Foreign Minister [Twitter]

Canada is “aware” that a Canadian citizen has been arrested by the Egyptian authorities and detained in the country’s local prisons, Canadian foreign ministry announced yesterday.

In an official statement, the ministry’s spokesperson Richard Walker said that the detainee, identified as Yasser Ahmed Albaz, was arrested in December during his business trip to Egypt, refusing to disclose further information about him “for privacy reasons.”

“Consular services are being provided to the family,” Walker stressed.

Albaz’s family told Canada’s CBC that he was stopped at the Cairo International Airport by the local security as he was attempting to board his flight back to the eastern Canadian province of Ontario.

The family explained that an airport security officer confiscated Albaz’s passport and informed him that his name was flagged for investigation. He was reported to have been arrested afterwards.

Right after his arrest, the family added, Albaz sent a text message to one of his friends, informing him that he had been arrested. “This is when we last heard from him [Albaz],” family stressed.

Albaz’s daughter, Amal, on her part, said that the Canadian government informed her family earlier this week that Canadian officials in Egypt were in contact with the local government “to seek answers.”

“The state authorities at first denied that they were holding my father, but later admitted he is in custody,” Amal pointed out, adding that the authorities refused to reveal Albaz’s whereabouts.

“An injustice has been done to my father,” she stressed.

The family called on the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, to intervene and demand the release of Albaz.

Albaz is a Canadian 52-year-old engineer of Egyptian origin. For two decades, he and his family have been living in Ontario’s suburban town of Oakville.

Last Saturday, Canada’s foreign ministry-affiliated Global Affairs told the family that Albaz being questioned at the State Security Prosecutor’s office, noting that he had not been charged with any crimes. He was later transferred to Cairo’s Tora prison, according to the family.

In January, Cairo deported two Germans of Egyptian origin after being detained for allegedly “attempting to join Daesh terrorist ranks in the Sinai Peninsula.”

Since the President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi took power – after overthrowing Egypt’s first freely-elected president Mohamed Morsi in the 2013 military coup – the government has been launching a crackdown on anyone suspected of opposing Al-Sisi.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian groups have repeatedly criticised the Egyptian authorities for carrying out arbitrary detentions, as well as torturing of detainees. Sisi denies the allegations.