CAIRO - Two Canadians held for seven weeks in an Egyptian prison in what they've described as brutal conditions have been freed, Canadian officials announced Saturday.
There were few other details on the release of John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani, who were arrested on Aug. 16 during violent anti-government demonstrations in Cairo.
"I look forward to Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson being reunited with their families and friends, who have shown tremendous strength during this difficult time," Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs said in a statement late Saturday.
"We are facilitating Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson's departure from Egypt," the statement added.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also welcomed the news of the release of the two Canadians, issuing a statement from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur where he`s continuing a visit aimed at strengthening ties with that Southeast Asian nation.
"The government of Canada has obviously been pushing for that and welcomes this decision by the government of Egypt and we look forward to seeing these two Canadian citizens return home in the not too distant future."
Greyson and Loubani were released Sunday morning — Cairo time — but there has been no confirmed word on exactly when they will be returning to Canada.
"They are awaiting passports and when they get them we will get them booked on a flight home," Justin Podur, a friend, said on Twitter late Saturday.
The two men's families couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but Greyson's sister expressed her relief through social media.
"Christmas comes early this year! Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to #freeandtarekandjohn," Cecilia Greyson tweeted.
Greyson, a Toronto based filmmaker and Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ont. have said they planned to stay in the Egyptian capital only briefly on their way to Gaza last month.
They issued a statement from prison last month indicating they had decided to check out protests that were close to their hotel and saw at least 50 protesters killed. Loubani stopped to treat some injured protesters and Greyson filmed the carnage.
Their statement said that after leaving the scene of the protests they asked police for directions and were stopped and beaten and taken into custody.
Subsequently Egyptian prosecutors accused them of "participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood'' in an attack on a police station, but never laid any charges.
The two Canadians said they spent most of their time crammed with other inmates in a filthy, cockroach-infested prison cell as they awaited word on their fate.
The pair staged a 16 day hunger strike to try to pressure Egyptian officials to release them, but started eating food again last week.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and other Canadian officials intensely lobbied Egyptian officials for weeks, demanding that the pair either be charged with a crime or released.
Baird spoke with his Egyptian counterpart for an hour late last month lobbying on the two men's behalf.
John Greyson's students made a video and posted it to YouTube in an effort to free their mentor. They also started an online petition and published a website.
Video Credit: YouTube
Free John and Tarek (an appeal from John's students)