The head of the United Nations human rights office on Tuesday called for the immediate release of prominent Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who hassince its inception on Sunday.
Alaa “is in great danger,” Volker Türk said, according to the Associated Press. “His dry hunger strike puts his life in grave danger.”
A spokesman for his office said the United Nations last raised the issue of Alaa’s health with Egyptian authorities on Friday and that they were asking for his “urgent, immediate release.”
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he and other world leaders in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh had explicitly raised Alaa’s case with their Egyptian counterparts.
“Something has to be done to make the release possible so the hunger striker doesn’t die,” Scholz said.
Alaa, a dual Egyptian-British citizen who was a major figure in the pro-democracy Arab Spring movement more than a decade ago, has been imprisoned in Egypt for almost the entire term of Egypt’s current authoritarian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. since 2014. Alaa’s family and human rights organizations call the charges against him false.
“I’m scared for Alaa, but I also really understand his decision to escalate, because he’s going to die in prison,” his sister Sanaa Seif, who previously spent time in an Egyptian prison for activism, told CBS News last week of rights. . “Maybe the way out for him is to kind of close the timeline so there’s enough pressure to save him.”
Seif, who also holds dual Egyptian-British citizenship, traveled to Egypt to attend the COP27 summit as a delegate, where she vowed to continue raising awareness of her brother’s case. Her trip came after she spent days camping outside Britain’s Foreign Office in the weeks leading up to the climate conference.
On Monday, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would meet el-Sisi at COP27 and “of course raise this issue. It’s something that not just the UK, but many countries want to see resolved.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Seif said her family had not received their regular letter from Alaa, which they expected at the start of the week, and were asking the British government to press for proof of life.
Seif said reports that El-Sisi had pledged to French President Emmanuel Macron that Alaa’s health would be preserved worried her.
“Are they force-feeding my brother right now? He’s handcuffed to a bed, an IV against his will? That’s what it sounds like to me when they say ‘keep him healthy’ but they don’t recognize his hunger strike and it’s not allowed consular access”.
“Let’s be clear, we’re running out of time. If the authorities don’t want to end up with a death that should and could have been prevented, they need to act now,” Amnesty International rights secretary-general Agnes Callamard . , he told reporters in Egypt on Sunday. “If they don’t, this death will hold COP27. It will be in every discussion – every discussion Alaa will be there.”
El-Sisi’s government tried to use the hosting of the COP27 gathering as an “internal show of force”, Seif said, insisting thatit cannot be meaningfully addressed without political freedom.
“You’re dealing with vested interests, things like big oil companies and things like that, and any improvements we’re going to have are because of pressure from civil society and activists and marginalized communities, vulnerable communities,” he told CBS News. “To solve the climate crisis, we need an open environment where people can express themselves – to call out their politicians, to hold them accountable, and we don’t have that space in Egypt.”
Seif said she still hoped her brother would be freed and allowed to leave Egypt and join his family in the UK, but if he wasn’t and she didn’t survive, she said it would have made a difference.
The Egyptian regime “used him to set an example for others … that’s something he didn’t choose,” he told CBS News. “I’m proud of him for living up to that example, and instead of becoming an example of oppression, a symbol of oppression, he became a symbol of resistance, resilience.”