Egypt activist on hunger strike says he may die in prison: Report

Alaa Abdel Fattah, an icon of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, has been on hunger strike for nearly six months, protesting against his detention.

Alaa Abdel Fattah stands in a cage during a verdict hearing over an unauthorised street protest in 2013, in a courtroom in Cairo
Alaa Abdel Fattah stands in a cage during a verdict hearing over an unauthorised street protest in 2013, in a courtroom in Cairo [File: AP Photo]

British-Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, 40, who has been on a hunger strike for nearly six months has warned his family he may die in prison, The Guardian has reported.

“I don’t want to upset you, but I don’t believe there’s any chance of individual salvation,” The Guardian quoted him as telling his mother during her visit to Egypt’s Wadi al-Natrun prison.

An icon of Egypt’s 2011 revolution and pro-democracy movements, Alaa has spent much of the past decade in prison. He has been in detention for the past 35 months for “peaceful exercise” of his human rights, according to Amnesty International.

Alaa and his lawyer Mohamed Baker were arrested in September 2019 and sentenced last year by Egypt’s Emergency State Security Court to five and four years in prison respectively for “spreading false news”, relating to their social media posts, Amnesty said.

Since April 2, he has been on a hunger strike, consuming only 100 calories a day, protesting against his detention, inhumane prison conditions and the authorities’ refusal to grant him consular access.

“Alaa is losing hope and is convinced he’ll die in prison”, the “freedomforalaa” Instagram account reported last month.

After visiting him in prison, his sister Sanaa Seif said “he looked frail, his eyes sunken, body withered”, the account said. She said, “He was preparing to go back to a full hunger strike – only water and rehydration salts – soon.”

His demands include releasing all those imprisoned within national security prisons or headquarters and releasing those “sentenced unconstitutionally” such as “those charged for publishing, or those charged in emergency courts”.

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in June that “prison and security officials have subjected him to a catalogue of human rights violations including torture and other ill-treatment, in reprisal for his prominent role in the 2011 revolution”.

“The Egyptian authorities know that Alaa is a symbol of resistance and freedom in Egypt and the wider region, and his continued unjust imprisonment sends a chilling message to other activists, and casts a shadow over preparations for the global UN climate conference taking place in Egypt.”

Last year, Alaa obtained British citizenship through his British-born mother. He requested a consular visit from UK officials in December 2021, but Egyptian authorities did not respond, according to Amnesty.

He has filed complaints of torture and ill-treatment, including being beaten while handcuffed for requesting outdoor exercise.

“When I last saw Alaa three weeks ago he looked so drained. He was struggling to stand,” his sister, Sana’a Seif told The Guardian. “I was speechless. I wasn’t allowed to hug him. Alaa is sacrificing his life to demand his right for consular access while the Foreign Office shies away from acting firmly to assert that right.”

Alaa’s pleas come as the country gears up for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in November.

In a report published on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Egyptian government has “severely curtailed” environmental groups’ ability to carry out their work in “protecting the country’s natural environment”.

HRW cited 13 professionals working on environmental issues in Egypt, including some who left the country for their safety.

“Those interviewed described a sharp reduction in the space for independent environment and climate work since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government took office in 2014. They described harassment and intimidation tactics, including arrests and difficulties travelling,  creating a general atmosphere of fear,” HRW wrote.

“These experiences mirror similar tactics pursued by Egyptian authorities against independent local and international groups more generally since 2014 as part of a relentless crackdown on civil society.”

Source: Al Jazeera