Alaa Abd El-Fattah: Family of jailed British-Egyptian fear for his life during COP27 summit

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Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

The sister of jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah is concerned for his life, telling a news conference on the sidelines of COP27 that the family’s does not “know if he’s alive.”

Despite Egypt’s police state making it difficult for government critics to speak out freely, Sanaa Seif, who has been advocating for her brother’s release in the United Kingdom, returned to Egypt on Monday to attend the UN climate conference in the coastal town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Her brother, Abd El-Fattah, was a leading activist in the country’s 2011 uprising. He has been imprisoned for much of the past decade and in 2019 was sentenced to a further five years in prison for allegedly spreading false news after sharing a Facebook post highlighting human rights abuses in Egyptian jails. On Sunday, he escalated a more than 200-day hunger strike and stopped drinking water.

“Are they force feeding my brother right now? Is he handcuffed to a bed with IVs against his will?” Seif asked the press conference

Abd El-Fattah needs consular access, or “put him in a plane out of Egypt today or he will die,” Seif said.

“We know they are happy for him to die, the only thing they care about is that it doesn’t happen while the world is watching, but the world is watching and it’s not only watching the Egyptian authorities, it’s also watching other governments, including the UK government,” Seif said.

A man identifying himself as an Egyptian lawmaker criticized Seif during the conference, saying her brother was sentenced as a criminal prisoner and not a political prisoner.

Prominent British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah stands in a cage during a verdict hearing for 21 people over an unauthorized street protest in 2013, in a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt in 2015.

“You are inciting foreign countries to put pressure on Egypt, you are attacking Egypt,” the member of parliament, Amr Darwish, said.

The man was escorted out after stopping Seif from responding to his question.

While the activist’s family continue to speak up about his deteriorating health, warning that he may die in prison soon, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry refuted those accounts to CNN, saying there might be a “misconception.”

“I believe that within the penal code, there is constant review of medical conditions for all inmates and that the necessary healthcare is provided. So I think there might be a misconception as relates to his actual status,” Shoukry told CNN on Monday.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned that Abd El-Fattah “was in great danger” on Tuesday, urging the “Egyptian government to immediately release the activist from prison and provide him with the necessary medical treatment, Türk said in a statement.

“His dry hunger strike puts his life at acute risk,” Türk said, adding that he had raised Abd El-Fattah’s case with Egyptian authorities “on multiple occasions.”

COP27, which is attended by global leaders, climate activists and company executives, has come under criticism in recent months for Egypt’s human rights record and the jailing of activists. Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said ahead of the summit, “No state can claim to be a credible player in addressing the climate crisis while continuing to tighten its chokehold on civil society.”

Shoukry told CNN that Egypt has a “very transparent way of dealing with issues of human rights,” adding that Abd El-Fattah has had a “fair trial” with “legal representation.”

“The person in question has had a fair trial, has had legal representation and has been convicted by an impartial court as any legal system. There should be respect for the judicial system that is, I think, the issue of the separation of powers that we should all adhere to,” he said, without naming Abd El-Fattah directly.

Britain’s former Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he “should be released as fast as possible” and given consular access. Asked whether that is likely, Shoukry said he had no information to provide on that matter, urging those concerned to refer to the judicial law.

The British government have been trying to secure the activist’s release, a UK foreign ministry spokesperson told CNN in a statement Sunday. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also raised Abd El Fattah’s case during his meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the COP27, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Seif said she “asked the British authorities to get us some proof that Alaa is alive and conscious I did not get any response.”

Seif added her mother waited outside the prison gates for “10 hours yesterday” for evidence her son was alive. “She’s back at those gates right now,” she said.

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