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Egypt: Alaa Abd el-Fattah ends hunger strike

Note addressed to family says imprisoned activist called off months-long protest from Egypt prison
A photo of Alaa Abdel-Fattah in his home in Cairo in May 2019 (AFP)

British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah has ended his hunger strike, according to a note his family received from prison in Egypt on Tuesday. 

The detainee had been on hunger strike for more than seven months to protest against his imprisonment.

The note, addressed to his mother Laila Soueif, said he had "broken" his strike, which he began on 2 April. Last week the imprisoned activist began refusing water too, coinciding with the start of the Cop27 climate summit held in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh.

"The important thing is I want to celebrate my birthday with you on Thursday, I haven’t celebrated for a long time, and want to celebrate with my cellmates, so bring a cake, normal provisions, I’ve broken my strike," he wrote.

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Mona Seif, sister of the detained activist said she wants to express "cautious relief".

"Alaa, for the first time in 3 years, still wants to celebrate his birthday with us, despite imprisonment. I pray they don't break his heart," she wrote on Twitter.

During the period of his hunger strike, Abd el-Fattah only consumed 100 calories per day until he stopped drinking water and all calories on 6 November.

Khaled Ali, his lawyer, said he had been granted a visitation permit to see Abd el-Fattah in prison, but had twice been denied entry despite holding two permits from the general prosecutor. 

The Public Prosecution on Thursday claimed that the detainee's health and "vital signs" were normal, but the family disputed the claims and requested "proof of life". They received a letter from him on Monday and another on Tuesday confirming he is alive.

Abd el-Fattah was a leading figure in the 2011 Egyptian revolution and has spent eight of the past 10 years in jail on various charges.

He was sentenced to five years in prison for "spreading false news" in December 2019, in a trial widely condemned by human rights defenders.

Cop27 human rights campaign

On Friday, Mona Seif announced that she had formally requested President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's clemency to end her brother's ordeal. 

Sanaa Seif, his other sister, flew to Egypt to take part in Cop27 to raise awareness about his case and that of other political prisoners in Egypt.

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Her campaign has prompted world leaders participating in the summit to show their support for Abd el-Fattah and call on President Sisi to intervene to secure his release.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had written to the family of the jailed activist ahead of attending Cop27, saying his government is committed to his release.

Similarly, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the activist's continued detention is "a very sad case".

The UN rights chief Volker Turk has also said Abd el-Fattah needed to be released, warning his life was "in great danger".

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also chimed in with calls for the activist's release.

Egypt is estimated to be detaining 65,000 political prisoners, according to Egyptian rights groups.

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