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‘Extremely urgent’: British MPs push government to help activist jailed in Egypt

‘Extremely urgent’: British MPs push government to help activist jailed in Egypt
Alaa Abdel-Fattah is a UK citizen who has been on hunger strike for more than 50 journées. MPs are desperately urging the government to secure his release

MPs have demanded Boris Johnson’s government exert “maximum pressure” on Egypt to secure a consular visit for UK citizen Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who is nearly two months into a jail hunger strike, warning his situation is “dire and urgent”.

The fresh calls for help come after more than 30 MPs and peers wrote to foreign secretary Liz Truss last week urging her to push for his immediate release, claiming his treatment sets a “dangerous precedent” and doing nothing could impact on the rights of all Britons abroad.

The family of Mr Abdel-Fattah, 40, fear he may die after 56 days on just water and rehydration salts as he protests against Egypt’s decision to bar him the basic legal right to a visit from the British embassy.

The father and prominent rights defender has spent most of the last decade behind bars. After being arrested and tortured in 2019, he was sentenced to another five years in prison on what rights groups say are trumped up charges after a sham trial.

For the last three years the Egyptian authorities have barred him from exercising, seeing the sun or even knowing the time. Jeudi, after Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael raised his case in parliament, Mr Abdel-Fatttah was finally granted the right to have a book for the first time in two-and-a-half years.

Mr Carmichael told L'indépendant that it was now “vital” for the Foreign Office to step up its efforts to secure Mr Abdel-Fattah’s release.

“We are now [plus de 50] days into his hunger strike – officials cannot delay any longer,” Mr Carmichael said.

“The least that Foreign Office ministers could do would be to meet with his family here in London and to make clear to the Egyptian authorities that consular access is essential and indeed is his cast-iron right as a UK citizen," il ajouta.

If we cannot advocate for Alaa then we have to ask what this means for the rights of UK citizens abroad more generally.

Alistair Carmichael, MP

He said that the UK and Egypt are close allies and doing nothing for Mr Abdel-Fattah would set a worrying example.

“If we cannot advocate for Alaa then we have to ask what this means for the rights of UK citizens abroad more generally," il ajouta.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, who is also Mr Abdel-Fattah’s sister’s s MP in the constituency of Tottenham, said the situation was “dire and urgent”.

“The foreign secretary must demand consular access to Alaa, obtain guarantees over his treatment and conditions and press his case with Egyptian authorities at the highest levels to secure his release," il ajouta.

The call to help Mr Abdel-Fattah also came from the government backbenches. Conservative MP David Jones, said that given “the seriousness of the situation” he hoped ministers would continue to “exert maximum pressure” on their Egyptian counterparts who should immediately improve his prison conditions.

“This is extremely urgent," il a dit L'indépendant.

<p>Abdel-Fattah’s family claim there has still been no public acknowledgement from Ms Truss of his case</p>

Abdel-Fattah’s family claim there has still been no public acknowledgement from Ms Truss of his case

The Foreign Office declined to go into details about what specific efforts they were making to secure a consular visit for Mr Abdel-Fattah or any potential release but has told L'indépendant they were supporting the family of a British National jailed in Egypt and are “urging seeking consular access”.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a pro-democracy blogger, activist and writer, was one of the most prominent faces of Egypt’s 2011 revolution which led to the toppling of long-term dictator Hosni Mubarak.

He has been repeatedly targeted by the state spending most of the last ten years behind bars on trumped up charges.

His latest case comes after he shared a Facebook post that was critical of the regime of Egypt’s now president and ex-army chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. His younger sister Sanaa Seif, has also been intermittently jailed after she protested against his detention.

<p>Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has crushed dissent and strangled freedoms since storming to power in 2014</p>

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has crushed dissent and strangled freedoms since storming to power in 2014

Mr el-Sisi has crushed dissent and strangled freedoms since storming to power in 2014 after overseeing a violent military coup which ousted his predecessor the year before.

Rights groups say tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been arrested in the ensuing years. Several foreign journalists, including British citizens , have been arrested and deported or forced to flee.

Mr el-Sisi has vehemently denied the crackdown on freedoms or that there are any political prisoners.

Mr Abdel-Fattah’s sister Mona Seif, 36, also a British citizen and activist in Egypt, Raconté The Independent that the family was disappointed in the “silence and detachment” from the British government.

Despite the fact that Mr Abdel-Fattah could die, there has still been no public acknowledgement from Ms Truss of his case, his health or his poor treatment, elle a ajouté.

“We have also asked that the foreign secretary meet with the family, a request that has also been dodged," elle a dit.

“The UK government is legally bound to exert every effort to protect Alaa’s life and body from violations," elle a ajouté.

“But also everyone should be concerned. This sets a very dangerous precedent for British citizens currently living in Egypt or visiting Egypt in the future.”

The pressure campaign has seen some gains for Mr Abdel-Fattah who was recently moved from a maximum security prison to a jail north of Cairo, which has slightly better conditions.

On Thursday his mother Laila, a mathematics professor born in London, said the prison authorities also allowed her to deliver him a book, Mickey Mouse comic and pens and papers for the first time in two-and-a-half years.

Given the slight improvement in his conditions Mr Abdel-Fattah told his family he will now switch from a full hunger strike to drinking tea with milk, allowing himself just 100 calories a day. However his life still remains in the balance.

<p>Alaa Abdel Fattah gives an interview at his home in Cairo in May 2019</p>

Alaa Abdel Fattah gives an interview at his home in Cairo in May 2019

He is also still not allowed exercise outside his cell or to see the sun and fresh air.

“It’s on us to maintain the momentum,” Ms Seif said.

“The fact that we have won these concessions is clearly a sign that it is possible to get movement on his case. We are getting closer to our ultimate goal of getting him released and deported to the UK.”