Paediatric oncologist Cyril Karabus, 77, was snatched at the airport and dragged away on a stopover home to Cape Town after visiting his son in Toronto.
A decade ago he filled in for another doctor in Abu Dhabi for six weeks and, unbeknown to him, had been convicted in abstentia and sentenced to four years in prison on manslaughter charges.
British trained Karabus, who has a British-born wife, has been vigorously supported by the British Medical Council, doctors at Great Ormond Street and the Royal Free, and generous UK benefactors.
His daughter Sarah Karabus, who has tirelessly campaigned for her father’s freedom, told the Jewish News: “They called him a murderer and said he was wanted by Interpol. It was terrible, shocking, we were numb, almost paralysed, and my poor mother was distraught. We just stared at each other, but were with my kids, aged two and five, so had to put on a brave face. I was clinging to the thought that it was all a terrible mistake.”
However, amazing new developments now mean it is likely Karabus will be home within days after his horrific ordeal, the details of which his family have yet to know fully.
Hapless Karabus had been charged with causing the death of a Yemeni girl with leukaemia. He was acquitted, but his ordeal was still not over as the prosecution said it would appeal the decision, and the case was constantly postponed.
“We thought he’d be home for Passover, but it wasn’t to be,” said Sarah. “It was the most bittersweet night. My whole family was at the Seder from different parts of the world for the first time in eight months, and we ended up having to Skype him because he couldn’t come home.
“He has changed immeasurably, aged two decades, lost 10 kilos and grown a beard because he wasn’t allowed a razor.
“For most of his prison stay he was in a cell with three murderers, and it was stiflingly hot. We sent a care package and they wouldn’t give it to him. He wasn’t allowed photographs, or books. He taught his cell mates to play chess, that’s about all he’s told me about what he did.
It’s terrible to be so sad when a baby is born instead of joyful, but he has never met his grandpa. My mum, Jennifer, is broken. It’s hard to explain how sad and distraught she is. She lives alone in Cape Town and is a shadow of the formidable woman she once was. It’s better not to express my anger at the moment. We will wait and see when my dad gets out.”
But now Sarah, who has been told her father (pictured right with his son, Matthew) has received his passport –which must be stamped at immigration before the SA ambassador can escort him through passport control –said: “We expect him home any day, but anything could happen.
“I cannot wait to see my father step off the plane. I know what he’ll say: ‘What was all the fuss about? Why are all these reporters here?’ That’s the kind of person he is.
“He has no idea what has been going on behind the scenes to get him freed. Relief, joy, but anger too, at the waste of nine months of an old man’s life when he should have spent that time at home with his family, enjoying his retirement.
“Instead, he has wiped out his retirement savings to fight a battle that never should have happened in the first place and indeed could not have happened anywhere else in the world. I sincerely hope that doctors and other medical professionals stop going to work there – it is just too risky. I’m just glad it’s over and we can carry on with our lives now. I just want my dad home.”