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

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

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

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

Her brother, Abd El-Fattah, was a leading activist in the country’s 2011 uprising. He has been imprisoned for most of the past decade and in 2019 was sentenced to an additional five years in prison for allegedly spreading fake news after sharing a Facebook -post that highlighted human rights abuses in Egyptian prisons. 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 on 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 just watching the Egyptian authorities, it’s watching other governments, including the British government,” Seif said.

A man who identified 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 sentencing hearing for 21 people over an unauthorized 2013 street protest in a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt in 2015.

“You are encouraging foreign countries to put pressure on Egypt, you are attacking Egypt,” said MP Amr Darwish.

The man was escorted out after preventing Seif from answering his questions.

While the activist’s family continues to talk about his deteriorating health and warn that he may soon die in prison, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denied those accounts to CNN, saying there could be a “misunderstanding.”

“I believe that within the Criminal Code there is a continuous review of medical conditions for all inmates and that the necessary healthcare is provided. So I think there may be a misunderstanding in terms of 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 and called on 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 in acute danger,” Türk said, adding that he had raised Abd El-Fattah’s case with Egyptian authorities “on several occasions.”

COP27, attended by global leaders, climate activists and business leaders, has been criticized in recent months for Egypt’s human rights record and jailing of activists. Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said ahead of the summit: “No state can claim to be a credible actor in dealing with the climate crisis while it continues to tighten its stranglehold on civil society.”

Shoukry told CNN that Egypt has a “very transparent way of dealing with human rights issues,” 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 assistance and has been sentenced by an impartial court like any legal system. There should be respect for the legal system, which is, I think, the issue of the separation of powers that we should all respect,” he said, without naming Abd El-Fattah directly.

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he “should be released as soon as possible” and given consular access. Asked if this is likely, Shoukry said he had no information to provide on this issue and urged those concerned to refer to the Judiciary Act.

The British government has been trying to secure the activist’s release, a British Foreign Office spokesman told CNN in a statement on Sunday. British 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 COP27, a Downing Street spokesman said.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Seif said she “asked the British authorities to get us some evidence that Alaa is alive and conscious, I got no answer.”

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

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