Family of a jailed British-Egyptian writer call for action during Cop27

The family of a British-Egyptian writer jailed in Cairo said world leaders will have “blood on their hands” if they take no action to secure his release during COP27.

Pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah has spent most of the past decade behind bars in Egypt and last December was sentenced to five years after being accused of spreading false news.

His sisters Sanaa and Mona Seif and other family members have been staging the protest outside the Foreign Office in Whitehall since October 18.

The family, who spoke with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly over the phone on Wednesday and to Lord Tarim Ahmad, North Africa minister, on Thursday, said they would be ending their sit in as their brother escalates his hunger strike.

In a tearful press conference just after midday, Sanaa Seif said: “We finally got the attention of the British Foreign Secretary.

“It’s been a long ride. It’s been too many governments. I hope it’s not too late.”

Ms Seif said she is “not sure” the Government has a plan and called on the media to “keep this story alive”.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” she added.

Speaking to world leaders going to the climate conference, she said: “If you don’t save him, you have blood on your hands.”

“I want to call on Rishi Sunak to intervene,” she continued.

“You are going to be in the same land as a British citizen dying.

“And if you don’t show that you care, it will be interpreted as a green light to kill him.

“My brother can be saved.”

Alaa Abd el-Fattah detained
Shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, with Mona (left) and Sanaa Seif at a sit-in outside the Foreign Office on October 18 2022 (Victoria Jones/PA)

Ms Seif said they will hold a vigil on Sunday at Downing Street and that she will attend COP27 herself to campaign for his release.

Mona Seif then announced that her brother will be escalating his hunger strike in prison, including a water strike as COP27 takes place in Egypt.

She told the press conference that her brother, who has been on a partial hunger strike in the Cairo jail for 200 days, limiting himself to around 100 calories a day, has now “had enough”.

He escalated to a full hunger strike three days ago and will start a water strike as well when COP27 starts, Ms Seif said.

“Alaa is not desperate to die,” she said.

“These are the actions of a man desperate to end this ordeal he has been sucked into for nine years and desperate to be reunited with his family.”

“We honestly believe that if Alaa doesn’t make it while Cop is taking place in Egypt, if Alaa is not freed by that point, Alaa is going to die in prison.”

Ms Seif said they are thankful for Mr Cleverly’s acknowledgement but said they are hoping there will be “real action to save Alaa”.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe made a short appearance outside the Foreign Office ahead of a press conference with Mr Abd El-Fattah’s family.

Mr Ratcliffe staged a similar sit-in protest when his wife was imprisoned in Iran.

He said they were stopping by ahead of his speech at a protest around the corner for Scottish Sikh Jagtar Singh Johal who has been jailed in India for five years.

Hollywood stars Dame Judi Dench, Dame Emma Thompson, Mark Ruffalo and Carey Mulligan are among who have campaigned for Mr Abd El-Fattah’s release.