Canadian home after 15 years in Egyptian prison

After spending a third of his life in Egyptian prison on charges of espionage which he denied, Joseph Attar returned to Canada Friday morning.

“I’m back, I’m alive again,” Attar told Toronto-based CTV News via Skype. “For the first time in 15 years I can only take a warm shower. No more cold water on my body. I can eat a good meal, a hot meal. I can have my whole bed to sleep on.”

Attar, 45, holds Canadian and Egyptian citizenships and was working as a bank teller in Toronto in January 2007 when he was arrested on arrival in Cairo for what he believed was a trip to see family.

Attar was charged with spying for Israel and was sentenced in April to 15 years in prison by an Egyptian court.

“My verdict was already handed down before I went to trial,” Attar said.

Attar pleaded innocent and has long maintained his innocence. During the trial, an alleged confession was published by Egyptian newspapers and used as evidence against him, which Attar and his lawyer claimed had been made through torture.

When journalists were briefly allowed to approach the metal cage he occupied in court, Attar said he was electrocuted and forced to drink his own urine during four weeks of solitary confinement.

“I’m innocent,” Attar told reporters during a rare exchange in March 2007. “I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. And I’ve never cheated on Canada.”

Formerly known as Mohammed el-Attar, he was accused of being paid to collect information about Egyptians and Arabs in Turkey and Canada for Israel, which has also denied such claims.

During Attar’s trial, his lawyer accused the prosecutors of “fixating” his client’s “homosexual behavior”. Attar is a convert from Islam to Christianity, which was also a point of concern for the prosecution.

In a Friday tweetForeign Secretary Melanie Jolie said: “Canada has been there to support Mr Attar and repeatedly raise his case at the highest level.”

Attar says he appreciates the recent efforts but felt neglected and abandoned by Canada’s previous government.

“Mr. Stephen Harper and his administration… completely dumped me and left me in the wilderness,” Attar said Friday.

Majed El Shafie from Toronto was himself tortured in Egypt and has been calling for Attar’s release since 2017. Today he and Attar met in person for the first time.

“I hate to say that our Canadian government is now focusing more on celebrity affairs than just important Canadian affairs,” El Shafie told CTV News via Skype.

Unfortunately, Attar has little to return to in Canada, as his parents and only family died here while he was in prison. He says he wants to forgive those who mistreated and abused him as he recovers from the trauma and starts his life over.​

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