Alaa Abd El-Fattah: Family of jailed British-Egyptians fear for their lives during COP27 summit


Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
CNN

The sister of jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah is worried for his life and told a press conference on the sidelines of COP27 that the family do not “know if he is alive”.

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

His brother, Abd El-Fattah, was one of the main activists in the country’s 2011 uprising. He was imprisoned for much of the last decade and in 2019 was sentenced to five more years in prison for allegedly spreading fake news after sharing a post on Facebook that highlighted human rights abuses in Egyptian prisons. On Sunday, he intensified a hunger strike of more than 200 days and stopped drinking water.

“They’re force-feeding my brother right now? Is he handcuffed to a bed with an IV against his will?” Seif asked at 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’re happy for him to die, all 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 as well, including the government of the Kingdom United,” Seif said.

A man who identified himself as an Egyptian lawmaker criticized Seif during the conference, saying his 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 for 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,” said MP Amr Darwish.

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

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

“I believe that within the criminal code there is a constant review of the medical conditions of all inmates and that the necessary health care is provided. So I think there may be a misconception as far as his actual status is concerned,” Shoukry told CNN on Monday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, warned on Tuesday that Abd El-Fattah “was in great danger” and urged 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 serious risk,” said Türk, who added that he had raised Abd El-Fattah’s case with Egyptian authorities “on multiple occasions.”

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

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

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

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he “should be released as quickly as possible” and given consular access. Asked if that is likely, Shoukry said he had no information to provide on the matter, and asked those interested to refer to the judicial law.

The British government has tried to secure the activist’s release, a spokesman for the UK Foreign Office told CNN in a statement. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak 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 he had “asked the British authorities to bring us some proof that Alaa is alive and conscious. I have not received any response.”

Seif added that his mother waited outside the prison gates for “10 hours yesterday” to prove that her son was alive. “It’s back to those doors right now,” he said.

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