Macron urged to press Sisi to free Egyptian journalists during Paris meeting

Ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Paris on 22 July, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged Macron to raise the fate of Alaa Abdel Fattah, an Egyptian blogger who has been on hunger strike for more than 100 days, and the fate of the 22 journalists who are detained arbitrarily in Egypt.

The purpose of the meeting between Macron and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the Élysée Palace was to discuss bilateral cooperation and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, French officials said.

“We urge President Macron to make every effort with his Egyptian counterpart to obtain the release of the 22 journalists, whose detention is completely arbitrary,” RSF’s Middle East desk said ahead of the meeting. “The blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, whose hunger strike could be fatal, must not be abandoned either. As he was convicted by a special court with no possibility of appeal, only President Sisi can quash his sentence.”

One of the leaders of the January 2011 revolution as well as a prominent blogger, Alaa Abdel Fattah had already been held for more than two years when, in December 2021, he was finally tried and sentenced to five years in prison by a state security court on charges of “membership of a terrorist group,” “spreading false information” and “misuse of social media.”

He has eaten no food since 2 April in protest against his arbitrary detention, adding “a bit of skimmed milk or a teaspoon of honey to his tea” in order to survive. “He is consuming what is estimated to be 5% of the normal average calorie intake,” his sister said in an open letter. “My brother's certain he won't come out of Egypt prison alive,” she said. In solidarity with her brother, she has also cut back her food intake.

The United Kingdom has granted British citizenship to Fattah in the hope of ending his arbitrary detention. British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the UK was “working very hard to secure his release” and that she would be “raising his case” with her Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, with the aim of getting him freed. Several British MPs signed a letter to the Egyptian embassy seeking his release – so far without any response.

President Sisi has declared 2022 to be the “year of civil society” in Egypt and, in a speech marking the end of Ramadan, he said: “The homeland is big enough for all of us. Differences of opinion need not spoil it.” On 5 July, the government launched a “national dialogue” with the aim of liberalising political life and improving human rights. Some political prisoners have been released but Egypt continues to be one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, with a total of 22 currently held in alarming conditions.

At least 18 political prisoners have died in detention since the start of 2022, four of them since the start of July. “Here [in prison] you must fall ill in silence and die in silence,” the Association of Young Detainees said in a statement.

Fattah was named an honorary citizen of Paris in 2020.

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