Alaa Abdel-Fattah: Jailed British-Egyptian activist is still alive, says sister

Sanaa Seif, the sister of writer Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a British-Egyptian activist imprisoned in Egypt, protests outside the Foreign Office (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Sanaa Seif, the sister of writer Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a British-Egyptian activist imprisoned in Egypt, protests outside the Foreign Office (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

The family of jailed British-Egyptian writer and pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah say they have received confirmation that he is still alive.

Concerns for Mr Abdel-Fattah have been growing after he stepped up a hunger strike and stopped taking water in protest at his treatment by the Egyptian authorities.

His family and friends called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to advocate for Mr Abdel-Fattah’s release during Cop27 in Egypt. The Prime Minister said he raised his case with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the opening of the summit last week.

Prison officials last week refused to allow a lawyer for the family to visit the activist after the authorities told his mother they had made an unspecified medical intervention.

On Monday, however, his sister Sanaa Seif tweeted: “I’m so relieved. We just got a note from prison to my mother, Alaa is alive, he says he’s drinking water again as of November 12th.

“He says he’ll say more as soon as he can. It’s definitely his handwriting. Proof of life, at last. Why did they hold this back from us for 2 days?!”

The family shared a copy of the note, which said he was receiving medical attention and his vital signs were good. It also asked them to bring vitamins.

Mr Abdel-Fattah escalated his protest to coincide with the start of the Cop27 climate change summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in the hope of focusing the attention of the world on his plight.

He has spent most of the past decade in prison and is currently serving a five-year sentence on charges of disseminating false news for retweeting a report in 2019 that another prisoner died in custody.

For the past six months he has been on a partial hunger strike, taking just 100 calories a day.

Since Mr Abdel-Fattah obtained British citizenship in December, officials have sought unsuccessfully to secure consular access. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Monday the Government would keep trying.

Mr Cleverly told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government was keeping “a very, very close eye” on his case.

“It’s a case that the Foreign Office has raised over a number of years in support of him. The Egyptians do not recognise him as a British citizen,” he said.

“We disagree with them on that and we have highlighted this disagreement to them at every level up to and including the Prime Minister in his discussions with President Sisi.”

Abd el-Fattah’s lawyer Khaled Ali said he visited the prison but was unable to get approval to see Abd el-Fattah from prison officials for a second consecutive day despite authorisation from the public prosecutor’s office.

“Why have they been refusing his lawyer access to him, even with a permit? Why did they hold this letter back from us for two days?” his sister Sanaa said in a statement.

“Alaa is still on hunger strike, the UK embassy has still failed to achieve consular access (and) he’s still arbitrarily detained with no end in sight.”

Since 2013, when then-army chief Sisi ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, there has been a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent that has swept up liberals and leftists, as well as Islamists. Human rights groups say tens of thousands have been jailed.

Sisi, who became president in 2014, says security and stability are paramount and denies there are political prisoners in Egypt.