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Alaa Abd el-Fattah: Jailed British-Egyptian activist ends hunger strike

It comes one day after he broke a water strike

Emily Atkinson
Tuesday 15 November 2022 17:39 GMT
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Egyptian MP removed from Cop27 conference about jailed hunger striker after disruption

The family of British-Egyptian writer Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who has been unlawfully jailed in Egypt, say he has ended his hunger strike.

The pro-democracy activist has spent much of the last decade behind bars in the Middle Eastern country. He is currently serving a five-year sentence after being convicted on charges of spreading false news after he shared social media posts about dire prison conditions.

In a statement, the family said that Mr Abd el-Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, received a letter in her son’s handwriting via prison authorities.

In the letter, headed with Monday’s date, the jailed activists asks his mother to come for her monthly visit to him in prison on Thursday.

“I’ve broken my strike. I’ll explain everything on Thursday,” it reads.

The circumstances under which he wrote the letter were not clear. The activist had previously said he was willing to die in his strike if not freed.

The family says it has not seen Mr Abd el-Fattah since the last pre-allocated visit on 24 October, nor have they been given any information regarding his condition.

The letter, written from inside Wadi al-Natrun prison near Cairo, reads: “How are you, Mama? Don’t worry, I’m OK. Your short letter got through, and I feel better now knowing you’re OK.

A letter penned by Alaa Abd el-Fattah in his own handwriting, addressed to his mother (FAMILY HANDOUT/AFP via Getty Ima)

“The mp3 [music player] got through too. I’ll see you on the visit day and tell you everything then and we’ll get back to long letters after the visit.”

The jailed activist then goes on to ask his mother to bring a cake to celebrate his 41st birthday on Friday. “I haven’t celebrated for a long time, and want to celebrate with my cellmates, so bring a cake, normal provisions,” he says.

“Lots of love, I miss you and long for your company, Alaa.”

Ms Soueif told the Associated Press that the letter, and specifically his hopes of being brought a birthday cake, was evidence he was in a “good” psychological state.

Mr Abd el-Fattah is serving a five-year sentence on charges of spreading fake news (AP)

“But I won’t be reassured until I see him,” she added.

His sister Mona Seif said she feels “cautiously relieved now knowing that at least he’s not on hunger strike”, but said her “heart won’t really be settled until Thursday when my mother and sister see him with their own eyes.”

Taking to Twitter, his other sister Sanaa Seif said: “We just got this letter. Alaa has broken his hunger strike. I don’t know what’s happening inside, but our family visit is scheduled for Thursday and he’s saying to bring a cake to celebrate his birthday.”

The news comes just one day after his family said he had ended a simultaneous water strike having received a similar handwritten letter from Mr Abd el-Fattah.

The prison authorities began a medical intervention on Mr Abd el-Fattah last Thursday, but failed to provide details on the nature of any treatment raising concerns among the family that he was being force-fed.

“I feel cautiously relieved now knowing that at least he’s not on hunger strike but my heart won’t really be settled until Thursday,” his sister Mona said in a family statement shared on Wednesday.

Mr Abd el-Fattah, who had been on a hunger strike for more than 200 days, allowing himself just 100 calories a day, announced ahead of Cop27 that he would stop drinking water as of Sunday 6 November – the first day of the UN climate summit hosted in Sharm el Sheikh.

Mr Abd el-Fattah explains in a letter to his family that he has resumed drinking water (FAMILY HANDOUT/AFP via Getty Images)

The purpose of the drastic demonstration was to draw the world’s attention to his case and those of other political prisoners.

During the two-week climate conference, which saw world leaders throng to the Egyptian resort town from all corners of the world, the prime minister Rishi Sunak, US president Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron and the German chancellor Olaf Scholz all raised the activist’s case in their private talks with Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Mr Abd el-Fattah was awarded British citizenship earlier this year through his mother, who was born in London. The family have frequently criticised the government for not doing enough to secure his release.

The software developer is one of Egypt’s most high-profile political prisoners and has been repeatedly targeted by President el-Sisi’s administration.

On Saturday, his sister Sanaa took part in a protest in Sharm el Sheikh that saw hundreds of activists march on the city to demand action on climate change, human and gender rights.

The protesters called for the release of Mr Abd el-Fattah and all political prisoners detained in Egypt. Sanaa, who has been imprisoned in Egypt before and now lives in London, flew to the conference to raise awareness about her brother’s case.

“We’re counting down the days until Thursday,” said Sanaa, in the family’s statement published on Tuesday.

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