‘Fresh approaches’ needed to free activist Abd el-Fattah: UK MPs

More than 100 politicians from various parties call on the government to step up diplomatic efforts as rights campaigner languishes in Egyptian jail.

Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah stands behind bars with fellow defendants during their verdict at a police institute in Cairo's Tora prison on February 23, 2015.
Activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah is serving a five-year prison sentence in Egypt [File: Khaled Desouki/AFP]

More than 100 British MPs and peers have written to the foreign secretary, concerned by the lack of progress in the case of jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah.

Abd el-Fattah, a human rights campaigner, is serving a five-year prison sentence for “spreading false news” after sharing a Facebook post about alleged police brutality.

“Private lobbying of the Egyptian government, even at its highest levels, is yet to deliver results,” said the letter, dated on Monday and addressed to James Cleverly.

“This calls for fresh approaches that draw on traditional British strengths of international diplomacy. The Human Rights Council presents a key opportunity for the UK to lead on a joint statement,” the letter read.

Among the lawmakers who signed it were co-leader of the Greens party Caroline Lucas, senior Labour MPs Diane Abbot and Hilary Benn, and Conservatives such as Iain Duncan Smith.

They also called on the UK to update its travel advice to align with Washington.

The United States warns its citizens about travel to Egypt by stating that an American passport does not provide “protection from detention or arrest”.

The US advice also notes Egyptian authorities do not automatically notify the US embassy when a dual national is detained.

Abd el-Fattah was a key figure in the 2011 protests that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

He was given British citizenship in 2022 through his British-born mother.

The letter was released seven months after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shook hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi while Abd el-Fattah was on the brink of death following a hunger strike protesting his arrest.

Sunak had told Abd el-Fattah’s sister, Sanaa Seif, that he would use the COP27 climate summit in Cairo last year to lobby for her brother’s release.

The letter to Cleverly highlights that meeting.

“You are, of course, aware that while the two leaders were meeting, Alaa was perilously close to death, collapsing just days later.

“Since he chose to end his hunger and water strike, he has remained imprisoned in his cell and has still not received a single visit from a consular official, despite repeated commitments to Alaa’s family from British ministers and officials that they are doing everything they can.”

The letter was sent to the Foreign Office on Monday as a demonstration calling for Abd el-Fattah’s release takes place.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies