- David Gretten
- BBC News
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Egypt to immediately release the Egyptian-British pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.
Volker Türk said his life was “in grave danger” after he escalated his hunger strike and stopped drinking water.
Alaa began a hunger strike in April, in protest of the Egyptian authorities’ refusal to allow the British Consulate to visit him.
His sister, Sana Seif, said, “All we know is that Alaa has stopped drinking water 50 hours ago. We don’t know where he is, and we don’t know if he is alive.”
“My mother waited outside the prison gates for 10 hours yesterday to get her weekly letter. They didn’t give her any. She’s back at those gates now,” she said, at a press conference at the COP27 Climate Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh.
She added: “I asked the British authorities to provide us with some evidence that Alaa is alive and conscious. I did not get any response.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, during a meeting with President Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, stressed his “deep concern” about Alaa’s case, and said he “hoped to see a solution as soon as possible,” according to a Downing Street spokesman.
Sana also said she was very concerned about recent statements by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who chairs the conference and President Sisi.
Shoukry told CNBC on Monday that prison authorities were providing Alaa with “health care and care available to all inmates,” while the French president said Sisi assured him that Egypt “is committed to ensuring that Alaa Abdel Fattah’s health is preserved.”
“Are they forcibly feeding my brother now? Is he shackled to a bed and being treated intravenously against his will? That’s what it looks like to me,” Sinaia said. “If that’s the case, he has fallen into a nightmare worse than he already was,” she continued.
“We know they are happy with his death,” she added. “The only thing they care about is that this doesn’t happen while the world is watching.”
Shoukry also stated that the legal procedures “have not yet been completed” for Egypt to recognize Alaa’s dual British citizenship, which he obtained last December through his London-born mother, Laila Soueif.
In a statement issued in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Egyptian government to “immediately release Abdel Fattah from prison and provide him with the necessary medical treatment.”
“Abdel-Fattah is in great danger. His hunger strike puts his life in grave danger,” said Turk, describing him as one of a number of people in Egypt who were “arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.”
But his comments were not limited to the Egyptian-British activist case alone.
“I call on the Egyptian authorities to fulfill their human rights obligations and immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, including pre-trial detainees, as well as those unjustly convicted,” he said. He added: “No one may be arrested for exercising his basic human rights.”
“Diplomatic and consular channels… are open between Egypt and the United Kingdom regarding this particular case. We are also dealing with the United Nations human rights system,” the representative of the Egyptian foreign minister, Wael Abul-Magd, told BBC News.
Alaa, 40, a father of a child, first appeared during the 2011 uprising in Egypt, which forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign.
Since Sisi came to power in 2014 after leading the military ouster of the democratically elected Mubarak, Abdel Fattah has spent most of his time in prison or in the police.
Last year, he was convicted of “spreading false news” in a Facebook post and sentenced to five years in prison. Human rights groups described the accusation as false and the trial sham.
In April, his family said he began a partial hunger strike, consuming a maximum of 100 calories per day.
Last week, he told his relatives that he will only drink water until Sunday, when the climate conference begins, after which he will stop even.