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Canadian national detained by Egypt for 16 months returns home

Yasser Ahmed Albaz was released after exhibiting coronavirus symptoms in prison, family says
Egypt police officer at entrance of Tora Prison in capital Cairo earlier this year (AFP/File photo)

A Canadian-Egyptian national was released by Cairo after spending almost 500 days in detention without charge, his family said.

Yasser Ahmed Albaz, 52, arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Thursday after exhibiting coronavirus symptoms last month, his family said. 

"Our family's ordeal is finally coming to an end," his daughter Amal Albaz said in a Facebook post

"[His] health has deteriorated and our top priority will be his much needed medical treatment," she continued. 

In a photo posted on Twitter shortly after his arrival, Albaz could be seen standing next to his wife, daughter and friends who were wearing face masks and gloves after they received information he may have contracted Covid-19 in prison.

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It was unclear if Albaz had contracted the coronavirus, but his family said last month that he had exhibited symptoms that included a severe cough, high fever, difficulty breathing and tightness in his chest. 

At the time, the family said they had received "reliable information" about his condition after another prisoner who had been held in the same wing as Albaz died from the virus. 

Albaz was detained at Cairo International Airport on 18 February 2019 after a two-month business trip to the country. His family said he was travelling on his Canadian passport.

According to a website launched by his family, the engineer was held on 15-day detention extensions for about five months before the extensions were increased to 45-day periods.

No charges were ever levied against him during his 16-month imprisonment and his detention was widely condemned as arbitrary. 

The 52-year-old was held mostly in Egypt's notorious Tora Prison, also known as "The Scorpion", a facility where conditions have been described as "degrading" by Human Rights Watch.

"Authorities there have denied inmates contacting with their families or lawyers for months at a time, held them in degrading conditions without beds, mattresses or basic hygienic items, humiliated, beaten, and confined them for weeks in cramped 'discipline' cells – treatment that probably amounted to torture in some cases," HRW said. 

Suppressing dissent

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has fiercely suppressed dissent since he became leader in July 2013 following a military coup against the country's first democratically elected president. 

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested, many of them critics, writers, journalists, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters. Thousands have been jailed without trial under Egypt's abusive pretrial detention system. 

In February, it was reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had raised Albaz's case with Sisi during a visit to the African Union summit.

Albaz's daughter Amal, who had been critical of the Canadian government's response during her father's detention, on Thursday thanked the officials involved in his release.

"We are forever grateful for each and every person who supported our family," Amal said.