The White House has expressed “deep concern” for jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who is on a hunger strike and has begun refusing water to coincide with the COP27 climate summit.
“We have been in high-level communication with the Egyptian government on this case, we have deep concern about it, we would like to see him freed,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in Washington, DC on Thursday.
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Senior United States officials said on Tuesday that President Joe Biden will raise the issue of human rights during his meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The White House made this statement after the activist’s lawyer said he had been refused access to Abd el-Fattah, despite being authorised for such a visit by the interior ministry.
Concern over Abd el-Fattah’s fate is growing as he continues to stage a hunger strike to protest his years-long detention by Egyptian authorities on charges of spreading disinformation.
He had been on a partial hunger strike of 100 calories a day for the past six months. He stopped all calorie intake and began refusing water on Sunday, the first day of the COP27 world climate summit held at the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Abd el-Fattah emerged as a leading pro-democracy activist and blogger during Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising that forced former President Hosni Mubarak from office after 30 years in power.
The 40-year-old has spent most of the past decade behind bars.
Earlier this week, Volker Turk, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, warned that Abd el-Fattah was in great danger and called for Egypt to immediately release him. “His dry hunger strike puts his life at acute risk,” Turk’s spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, told a news briefing in Geneva.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said the leader had raised the case of the activist’s detention with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a meeting between the pair on Monday on the sidelines of the COP27 summit.
“The prime minister said he hoped to see this resolved as soon as possible and would continue to press for progress,” Sunak’s office said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Abd el-Fattah’s family said they have been told by prison authorities the activist is “under medical intervention”, potentially meaning he is being force-fed – an act tantamount to torture.
Abd el-Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, travelled on Thursday to Wadi el-Natroun prison where he is being held, approximately 100km (62 miles) north of Cairo.
There she was informed “medical intervention was taken … with the knowledge of judicial entities”, his sister, Mona Seif, wrote on Twitter.
The nature of the intervention was not known but the family has expressed fears prison officials would force-feed Abd el-Fattah.
His sister also disputed a claim by the Egyptian prosecutor that the Abd el-Fattah was in “good health”.
Late on Thursday, the Egyptian prosecutor contended that “all his vital signs… are normal,” and that he “is in good health and does not need to be transferred to hospital”.
“Lie!”, Mona Seif wrote on Facebook, adding that the authorities were forcibly intervening to “deny” his hunger strike “so that he won’t die”.