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Cop27: Greta Thunberg backs Egypt political prisoners ahead of climate summit

UN annual conference on climate change is set to be hosted in Egypt next month amid tight restrictions on assembly and free speech
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg attends a 'Fridays for Future' movement protest in Stockholm, Sweden, 13 October 2022 (AFP)
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg attends a 'Fridays for Future' movement protest in Stockholm, Sweden, 13 October 2022 (AFP)

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg has joined nearly 200 organisations and individuals in calling on Egyptian authorities to release journalists and political prisoners in the country ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (Cop27) next month.

Cop27 will be hosted in Egypt's resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh from 7 to 18 November amid tight restrictions on peaceful assembly and free speech.

'We stand in solidarity with prisoners of conscience in Egypt'

- Greta Thunberg

On Thursday, Thunberg tweeted a petition which bore the signature of hundreds of human rights groups and individuals who expressed dismay over Egypt hosting a UN summit, while thousands of Egyptian political prisoners remain locked in dire conditions.

"We stand in solidarity with prisoners of conscience in Egypt," she tweeted.

The petitioners said that they: "Emphasise that effective climate action is not possible without open civic space.

"As host of Cop27, Egypt risks compromising the success of the summit if it does not urgently address ongoing arbitrary restrictions on civil society.

"Prisoners are held in detention conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, and since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power hundreds have died in custody amid reports of denial of healthcare and other abuse," they added.

Human rights activists stressed that tackling climate change goes hand-in-hand with addressing social and economic inequality, corruption and impunity, and ecological destruction.

"We stress the importance of the right to freedom of expression and independent reporting to foster efforts to address the climate crisis," they added, calling on Egyptian authorities to release jailed human rights defenders and journalists and end the blocking of websites of independent media and civil society groups.

"We note that, under the current government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained without a legal basis, following grossly unfair trials, or solely for peacefully exercising their human rights."

Greenwashing

Thunberg's call comes on the same day as the European Parliament demanded that respect for "criteria relating to human rights" be taken into account in the choice of host countries for future Cops.

"Egypt (...) is using the Cop27 to restore its image and hide its catastrophic record on human rights", said French environmentalist MEP Mounir Satouri, one of the elected officials behind an amendment to a bill concerning Cop27, which MEPs approved on Thursday.

COP27: Egypt creating climate of fear for environmentalists ahead of conference
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Satouri said that the issue of respecting human rights should be raised when the United Arab Emirates hosts Cop28 next year.

On Tuesday, Egyptian-British activist Alaa Abdel Fattah completed 200 days on hunger strike in an Egyptian jail, with no end in sight to his ordeal.

Abdel Fattah, an activist who called for peaceful assembly and free speech, was an icon of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and has spent eight out of the past 10 years in jail on various charges.

Human rights activists said that the Egyptian authorities must take meaningful steps to address the human rights crisis, including by lifting restrictions on access to civic space and ending their crackdown on peaceful dissent.

They noted that Egypt remains one of the world's top executioners, executing 107 in 2020 and 83 people in 2021 while sentencing at least 356 Egyptians to death in 2021.

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