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Cop27: Rishi Sunak writes to Alaa Abdel Fattah's sister ahead of Egypt trip

British prime minister says jailed British-Egyptian's case is a 'priority', as he heads to Sharm el Sheikh for climate summit
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech at a reception for world leaders, business figures and environmentalists at Buckingham Palace in London on 4 November 2022 (AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech at a reception for world leaders, business figures and environmentalists at Buckingham Palace in London on 4 November 2022 (AFP)

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has written to the sister of jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah ahead of attending the Cop27 United Nations climate change conference in Egypt.

"We are totally committed to resolving your brother's case," Sunak told Sanaa Seif in a letter on Saturday about Abdel Fattah's case. "He remains a priority for the British government, both as a human rights defender and as a British national.

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"Ministers and officials continue to press for urgent consular access to Alaa as well as calling for his release at the highest levels of the Egyptian government."

Abdel Fattah was an icon of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and has spent eight of the past 10 years in jail on various charges. 

He was rearrested in September 2019, and again in December 2021, when he was sentenced to five years in prison by an emergency state security court on charges of spreading "false news" in a trial widely condemned by human rights defenders. The evidence used against him was a retweet.

Sunak said that his predecessor, former foreign secretary Liz Truss, had raised Alaa's case with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sisi "on several occasions". 

"I will continue to stress to President Sisi the importance that we attach to the swift resolution of Alaa's case, and an end to his unacceptable treatment," he wrote. 

Alaa begins full hunger strike

Cop27 will take place in Egypt's resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh from 6-18 November, amid tight restrictions on peaceful assembly and free speech. 

Sunak is attending the summit after U-turning on an earlier decision to skip the summit to prioritise domestic affairs.

From Sunday, to mark the beginning of the conference, Abdel Fattah will escalate the partial hunger strike he began on 2 April, during which he consumed only "100 calories a day". He has refused food altogether since Tuesday, and on Sunday launched a "water strike", his sister Sanaa Seif said in a statement.

His sister Mona Seif said that this was the family's "final chapter", and that "if Alaa is not freed by Cop27 he is going to die in prison".

On Thursday, Sanaa announced that she would be attending Cop27 as an "embarrassing reminder" to world leaders over her brother's imprisonment. 

"I'm doing this because I want to keep the pressure up and I want to be a physical reminder that exists and that is an embarrassment for everyone complicit in the crimes against my brother," Sanaa told Middle East Eye during a press conference in London. 

The family revealed that they had "finally" spoken to UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly during a call on Monday evening, in addition to meeting with Middle East Minister Lord Ahmad on Tuesday.

Germany criticises Egypt rights record

At least 60,000 political prisoners are estimated to have been jailed since Sisi overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, in 2013. 

On Sunday, the German government accused Egypt of not living up to its human rights obligations ahead of Cop27.

Berlin's human rights commissioner, Luise Amtsberg, urged Cairo to release jailed Abdel Fattah and Egyptian human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer.

"The fact that people who want to express their opinions freely and stand up for that right are punished with long prison sentences - sometimes under inhumane conditions - is unacceptable," Amtsberg said in a statement.

"Assuming global responsibility also means, above all, assuming responsibility for the protection of human rights... However, the human rights situation in Egypt does not do justice to this."

Earlier this week, 13 winners of the Nobel Prize for literature wrote to world leaders urging them to discuss the plight of political detainees in Egypt ahead of the climate summit. 

The intervention came just days after Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg announced she would not be attending Cop27 due to human rights abuses in the host country.

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