Alaa Abdel Fattah’s life is at stake ahead of COP27, and RSF calls for his release

British-Egyptian blogger and political activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, has announced after over 200 days of partial hunger strike, that he has escalated his protest to zero-calories a day. From Sunday 6 November onward, he will no longer drink water. Alaa’s decision to escalate his hunger strike to this level of extremity calls for action at the utmost urgency, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warns. If action is not taken in the coming days, Alaa will die.

“Urgent immediate action to save Alaa Abdel Fattah is needed now, more than ever,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Egyptian authorities have long made it clear they do not care whether Alaa lives or dies. It is up to the international community, and particularly the authorities in the UK, where Alaa is also a citizen, to mount the pressure to secure his release. The risk of Alaa Abdel Fattah dying in prison is high. This is a terrifying outcome we cannot allow."

In a letter sent to his family and shared publicly on 31st October, Abdel Fattah announced that he would be escalating his hunger strike ahead of COP27, the global climate conference which in 2022 is being held in Sharm el Sheikh Egypt. In the letter Abdel Fattah details: “I have decided to escalate at the appropriate time, my struggle for my freedom and the freedom of prisoners.” 

Abdel Fattah has been on hunger strike since 2 April, where he was only consuming 100 calories, through a teaspoon of honey and milk. On the morning of 1st November, Alaa drank his last cup of the warm beverage. On Sunday, 6 November, the first day of COP27, Alaa will stop drinking water altogether.  “What will follow is unknown,” wrote Abdel Fattah in his letter to the family. A human body can usually survive three to four days without water, depending on the person. 

A voice they want silenced

A programmer and a blogger, Alaa Abdel Fattah is one of the leading voices in the 2011 protests that toppled the Mubarak government after three decades in power. His first arrest post-revolution was on 30 October 2011, when the military prosecutor detained him for writing the article “To Be With the Martyrs, for that is Far Better”, following the Maspero massacre during which the army killed 26 Coptic protesters in Cairo. On 28 November 2013, Abdel Fattah was arrested again and sentenced to 5 years in prison. His release in March 2019 was only partial, still requiring him to spend his nights in detention at a police station in Dokki for 5 years. Just a few months later however, in September 2019, Alaa was arrested again and sentenced to another 5 years in prison. He has been behind bars since.  

Abdel Fattah, who was granted British citizenship in April 2022 thanks to his mother’s nationality, has repeatedly called on the UK government to intervene in his case. Multiple UK government officials have publicly stated that they have raised the case with Egyptian officials, including former Prime Minister Liz Truss, in her capacity as Foreign Secretary who claimed that she was “working very hard for his release.”

His sister, Sanaa Seif, is currently engaged in a 20-day sit-in outside of the Foreign Office in London, until the start of COP, in hopes to engage the attention of both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister – both of whom have not visited the family despite the need for urgent diplomatic intervention. 

On the Egyptian front, the government has been adamant on downplaying and even denying Alaa’s hunger strike. Mona Seif, Alaa’s sister, has accused authorities of forging reports about her brother’s health and has challenged the government to release images of Alaa from within his prison cell. 

Upon receiving the news of her brother’s drastic decision, she wrote on Facebook: “Alaa has already won this battle. If he makes it out alive and joins us, his family, in safety. Then he would have done it using only his body and words.” She added: “If he doesn't make it and dies in prison, his body will tell the whole world what a bunch of liars you all are: ruthless inhumane creatures that should not be trusted with one plant, let alone people and the future of this planet.”

A Message from Egypt’s President ahead of COP 27 

Despite mounting international pressure ahead of the climate conference, the Egyptian government remains steadfast in its commitment to stifling independent journalists.

Seven days ahead of COP, Egyptian authorities arrested yet another journalist. Manal Ajrameh, the assistant editor in chief of the renowned weekly magazine Al-Iza’a Wa Al-Television (The radio and the television), was arrested from her home on the morning of 1 November for unknown reasons, in  what can only be understood as a resounding response on behalf of the government to the calls of releasing prisoners in Egypt. 

On 24 October, President Abdel Fattah Al Sissi interrupted a talk show on Al Oula channel to express his anger regarding a brief intervention on the show by a member of the opposition. For a chilling hour and 18 minutes, the president spoke uninterrupted, schooling the journalist on the media’s role while delivering veiled threats to critics.

These incidents are taking place as the Egyptian government attempts to polish its image to incoming world leaders and investors.  Along with Ajrameh, 22 other journalists are currently locked up in Egyptian prisons, most of them without trial on charges of “spreading fake news” or “joining illegal organisations''. In June, RSF published a report entitled “President Sisi’s puppets'' showing how leading pro-government TV anchors and state-controlled media in Egypt are used to launch and then amplify smear campaigns against the few journalists still critical of the government.

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