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Family of Canadian detained in Egyptian prison presses for his release

Yasser Ahmed Albaz is now being held without charge in the notorious Tora prison
Albaz, 51, is being held in Tora Prison outside of Cairo (AFP)
By in
Cairo

A Canadian businessman detained in Egypt since last week has been taken to the notorious Tora Prison and will be questioned on Tuesday as his family pushes Ottawa’s highest levels to intervene.

Yasser Ahmed Albaz, 51, travelled to Egypt for business in December. He was returning home on 18 February when authorities detained him at Cairo International Airport and confiscated his Canadian passport.

His daughter, Amal Ahmed Albaz, told Middle East Eye in an email that after he was stopped, her father sent messages to let them know what was happening, leaving them “horror-struck”.

“After waiting for four hours, he sent us a message, letting us know that he loves us, and then all communication ended.”

Albaz, who runs an engineering company in Canada, sent a final message to a friend in Egypt informing him that he was under arrest, she said.

In a statement, the family said it is “gravely concerned” for Albaz’s safety and his life.

“It remains unclear why he is being unlawfully detained. And most critically, there is great concern around the condition of his detention and if he is being treated according to international human rights laws,” the family said.

The Egyptian government denied that it had detained Albaz for several days. However, a source in the General Prosecution office said Albaz appeared in the State Security Prosecutor’s office on Saturday with a lawyer.

The source said he was ordered to four more days of detention and will be questioned on Tuesday.

A police colonel inside the Cairo International Airport told MEE that Albaz was taken from the airport to the National Security Apparatus (NCA) facilities and was then sent to Tora Prison, which hosts high-profile criminal and political prisoners and and is known for harsh conditions and human rights abuses.

“Although he had a Canadian passport, he is an Egyptian national also. And if the security forces have their suspicions, they have the right to interrogate him,” the police colonel said.

Those who are detained at the airport are usually wanted either on terrorism or financial corruption charges, he added, citing the arrest of two German-Egyptian citizens who were accused of trying to enter Egypt to join an Islamic State affiliated group and detained in December at the airport. Both were eventually deported back to Germany. 

Albaz’s daughter denies that her father has any political affiliation, saying he had lived in Canada for 20 years and had regularly travelled to Egypt on both personal and business trips.

She said her family has been in touch with Global Affairs Canada and a case has been opened. A source in the Canadian Embassy in Cairo confirmed that they are aware of Albaz’s arrest and are in communication with the Egyptian government.

On Saturday, when Albaz was first questioned by the State Security Prosecution, Egypt was preparing to host European and Arab leaders for a first ever European Union-Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The conference comes fresh off the backlash over the execution of nine young men in the country last week over the murder of Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s former public prosecutor, who was killed in 2015 when a car bomb hit his car.

Right groups had called for the government to halt the executions, saying the men had been sentenced on forced confessions under torture and subject to unfair trials.

The executions raised the total number of executions this month to 15.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power after leading a military coup against his predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, has led a crackdown on dissent that has seen the detention of at least 60,000 political prisoners, according to rights groups.

The government has reportedly built 19 new prisons since 2011 to accommodate a growing number of detainees.