The daughter of a Canadian man who has been languishing in a brutal Egyptian prison for more than two months says his detention has been renewed yet again.
Amal Ahmed Albaz told HuffPost Canada her father Yasser still hasn’t been charged with anything or told why he is being detained.
“A part of us is still in shock and can’t wrap our heads around what’s happening,” Albaz said.
The Oakville, Ont. family’s nightmare began on Feb. 18 — Family Day in their province — when he was taken in for questioning by authorities at the Cairo airport while waiting to catch a flight back to Toronto. After sending them a text message to say he loved them, Yasser vanished.
The family had no idea where he was for almost a week. Their confusion turned to abject horror when a lawyer in Cairo told them Yasser was questioned and taken to Tora prison, a notorious institution that has been accused of human rights violations.
Albaz said that since then, Yasser has been receiving extensions on his detention from the state prosecutor without being charged. The most recent renewal was on April 15.
“They just go [to the prosecutor], they just renew his extension and he leaves. It’s very routine,” she said.
“The Canadian government has no knowledge of anything and even our lawyer on the ground has no knowledge of anything.”
Father in ‘psychological shock’
Albaz said her father’s situation is only getting worse. He is still sleeping on concrete floors in a cramped cell and eating unclean food.
Her uncle in Egypt has been allowed to visit Yasser. He tells them he is physically unharmed but appears to be in “psychological shock.”
“He’s trying to tell us he’s strong, that he’s fine, but I know he’s just telling that my uncle for our sake, to give us some peace and solace.”
Albaz said her father’s absence has hit the family hard. She said she is reminded of how long he’s been away just by looking at how much her three-month-old son has grown since
She said her mother did not leave the house for the first month.
“They’ve been married for 26 years. Her other half is literally gone.”
Albaz’s 13-year-old brother takes his dad’s watch to school.
“My mom says ‘this is huge on you, why are you taking it?’ He just responded ‘I want a piece of my dad with me.'”
And Albaz’s sister, who is getting married in almost two months, says she is “devastated” and afraid she’ll have to cancel the wedding if her father is not released in time.
“The moment we start to envision or picture what he’s doing, what he’s like in there, we break apart. So we try to not think of all the little details and just hope he’s OK,” Albaz said.
Albaz said Canadian consular officials have contacted Yasser to provide support. She also said that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reached out in person to express her concern and support to the family.
“We just hope that she will take personal action on this case. She’s kind of our only hope in this situation,” she said.
The family is worried that fabricated charges will be laid in Yasser’s case, Albaz added, which would lob it into a whole new dimension of legal issues.
She is afraid the case will slowly resemble that of Hazem Hamouda, an Australian-Egyptian citizen who spent more than a year in Tora prison without ever being charged. Although he was recently freed, Hamouda “vanished” for a month shortly before his scheduled release date in February, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“Right now is the best time for the Canadian government to intervene, because if it turns into a trial or if it enters the judicial process based on fabricated charges or evidence or anything like that, then it becomes much more difficult for the government to intervene.”
Throughout Yasser’s ordeal, Global Affairs Canada has only told HuffPost that the government is aware of a Canadian being detained in Egypt and is providing consular services. The department said it could not provide any more information due to the Privacy Act
On Wednesday, a spokesperson confirmed that Freeland reached out to Albaz’s family and that officials are working with local authorities to “obtain more information.”
To pressure the government to escalate its response, Albaz started a petition on March 28 — her father’s 51st birthday — to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Freeland to intervene. To date, more than 20,000 people have signed the campaign.
“How long is the Canadian government going to wait before they actually make this a priority? How long before they decide to bring him home?” Albaz said.
“They say this is a priority and I want to believe them, [but] the only way I can come to believe them is if he’s home, it’s if I know there’s a clear plan on what is being done to bring him home.”