Egypt prison puts hunger-striker Abdel Fattah 'under medical intervention'

The dissident's aunt, novelist Ahdaf Soueif, earlier this week said the family was concerned about "rumours of force-feeding and of sleep-inducing drugs".

Published: 11th November 2022 12:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th November 2022 12:31 AM   |  A+A-

Egypt's leading pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah

Egypt's leading pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah (File Photo | AP)


The family of Egypt's jailed dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah said Thursday prison authorities had told them he is "under medical intervention", as fear mounts that he is being force-fed.

The family have repeatedly demanded information on the health of the British-Egyptian activist in recent days, after he escalated his months-long hunger strike to include water.

On Thursday, his lawyer said he had been refused access to him by the prison where he is held, despite being authorised to do so by the interior ministry.

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Abdel Fattah's mother Laila Soueif, who has likewise tried to access the Wadi al-Natroun prison north of Cairo, was informed that "medical intervention was taken... with the knowledge of judicial entities", the activist's sister Mona Seif wrote on Twitter.

"They should allow our mother to see him immediately and see for herself how he is," Seif added.

Abdel Fattah, a veteran pro-democracy and rights campaigner, is serving a five-year prison sentence for "spreading false news" by sharing a Facebook post about police brutality.

International concern has mounted since the 40-year-old also began declining liquids since Sunday, marking the start of the UN climate summit COP27 hosted by Egypt.

On Thursday, an officer told the activist's mother that he was "under medical intervention", but gave no other details.

Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the country's largest rights group, said the prison officer statement "means he is being force-fed".

Amnesty International said they were "worried" that medical decisions for Abdel Fattah were "not made by independent doctors free from interference and coercion by security".

A key figure of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah gained British citizenship this year.

"Surely our mother should see him, or someone from @UKinEgypt (British embassy in Cairo) so we understand his real health status!!" Seif added on Twitter.

The dissident's aunt, novelist Ahdaf Soueif, earlier this week said the family was concerned about "rumours of force-feeding and of sleep-inducing drugs".

Soueif demanded that he be moved to the Qasr al-Aini University Hospital, Cairo's largest state medical facility, fearing the prison hospital "is probably not equipped" to care for a patient who has been living for months "on 100 calories a day".

Abdel Fattah's lawyer, Khaled Alia, said Thursday that "the interior ministry refused to implement the prosecutor's permit for us to visit Alaa under the pretext that the permit was dated" the day before.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have all voiced concern during the climate summit and called for his release.

United Nations rights chief Volker Turk has warned Abdel Fattah's "life is in great danger".

Activists at the COP27 summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh have posted widely on Twitter under the hashtag #FreeAlaa. Several figures have ended their speeches with the words "you have not yet been defeated" -- the title of the jailed activist's book.

On Thursday, hundreds of COP27 participants, dressed in white like Egyptian prisoners, chanted "Free him!" and "no climate justice without human rights!".

Others shouted "Free them all!" in reference to the 60,000 political detainees rights groups say are incarcerated in the country, many of them in brutal conditions and overcrowded cells -- accusations which Cairo rejects.

"We are carrying out this action to draw attention to those who are invisible, hidden behind high walls," one of the organisers George Galvis said.

Abdel Fattah's case and the wider rights situation are intensely sensitive in Egypt, ranked 135 out of 140 countries in the World Justice Project's rule of law index.

As international criticism of Egypt mounts, a counter-campaign has grown.

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One Egyptian lawmaker protested during a press conference by Sanaa Seif, Alaa Abdel Fattah's other sister, at COP27 -- before being expelled by UN security -- and another has called on parliament to protest.

Egypt's mission in Geneva slammed the intervention by the UN's Turk, saying his "characterisation of a judicial decision as 'unfair' is an unacceptable insult".

A lawyer has also filed a complaint against Sanaa Seif for "conspiracy with foreigners" and "false information", according to activists.

The prosecution has yet to decide on the complaint, the same potential charge of spreading "false information" that Abdel Fattah himself was jailed for.

He had shared a post -- written by someone else -- accusing an officer of killing an inmate under torture.


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