- David Gretten
The sister of imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah said she “hopes and trusts” that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be able to release him during his visit to Egypt to attend the climate summit.
Speaking from Sharm el-Sheikh, where the climate summit is being held, Sana Seif told the BBC she was sure he “could do it if it was really a priority for him”.
Abdel Fattah, 40, has been on hunger strike for more than six months.
His family said he has now stopped drinking water and may die within days.
A Downing Street spokesman for Sunak said the prime minister stressed his “deep concern” over the issue during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“The prime minister expressed his hope that he will see a solution as soon as possible, and will continue to press for progress,” the spokesman added.
Prior to the trip, Sunak told Abdel Fattah’s family in a letter that his government was “strongly committed to doing everything in its power” to secure his release.
From the 2011 uprising to prison
Abdel Fattah, a prominent pro-democracy activist and blogger, first appeared during the 2011 uprising in Egypt that forced the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Since Sisi came to power in 2014 after the military ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, Abdel Fattah has spent most of his time in prison or in the police custody.
Last year, he was convicted of “spreading false news” in social media posts and sentenced to five years in prison. Human rights groups described the charge as false and the trial as sham.
His family said in April that he had started a hunger strike to protest his unfair imprisonment and harsh conditions of detention and the refusal of visits to the British Consulate, and that he only consumed water and salt at first, then allowed himself a maximum of 100 calories per day.
Last week he told relatives he would only drink water until Sunday, when the climate conference starts, and then stop.
What does his sister Sana say?
His sister, Sana Seif, a 28-year-old human rights defender and herself who has served three prison sentences in Egypt on charges fellow activists described as bogus, went to Sharm el-Sheikh to start a campaign on Alaa’s behalf.
She told the BBC he would start drinking water again if British consular officials were allowed to visit him because “he would feel there was hope for the future”.
She added that she believes that Sunak has the power to pressure the Egyptian president to release her brother.
“I’m sure he’ll do it,” she said. “It’s hard, the timetable is very tight. But I know he’s going to do it, because there’s a precedent. Other governments have done it.”
“I’m not sure if the diplomatic team working on the case actually prepared it properly for the prime minister. But I trust the prime minister because I know he can do it if it’s a priority for him,” she added.
Sana noted that the “tension” in British politics in recent months gave civil servants and diplomats an “excuse” not to work hard to solve her brother’s case.
She said, “I suddenly felt when Alaa stopped [شرب] The water is that we suddenly started receiving phone calls, and we received a message from the Prime Minister. So it seems they suddenly realized the urgency.”
In response, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told the BBC it was “deeply concerned about the continued detention of Alaa Abdel Fattah”.
The office added: “The government is working hard to secure his release and continues to raise his case at the highest levels of the Egyptian government.”
The opinion of the Egyptian government
But another sister of Abdel Fattah, Mona Seif, accused Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry of lying in an interview with CNBC, in which he declared his confidence that prison authorities were providing Alaa with “health care, the care available to all inmates.”
Shoukry added: “There have been reports of previous hunger strikes that cannot be verified. This is a matter of personal choice that we are dealing with within the framework of the sanctions regime.”
Shoukry said that the Egyptian authorities have not yet recognized Alaa Abdel Fattah’s dual British citizenship, which he obtained last December from his London-born mother.