CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian prison authorities have intervened medically with imprisoned pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who this week stepped up his hunger strike and stopped drinking water, his family said Thursday, demanding his release. The drama surrounding his fate coincides with Egypt’s hosting of the UN climate summit.
A family lawyer, Khaled Ali, said in a tweet that he had been allowed to visit Abdel-Fattah in prison and was going there immediately on Thursday, the fifth day the activist left without drink water or consume calories.
The nature of the medical intervention was not known and it was unclear whether he had been transferred to a prison hospital. The family expressed fears that prison officials could force-feed Abdel-Fattah, which they say would amount to torture. Abdel-Fattah said in an earlier letter that he was prepared to die in prison if not released.
Abdel-Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, has been waiting every day this week outside the Wadi el-Natrun prison complex in the desert north of Cairo, searching for evidence of her son’s life. She said Thursday that prison officials spoke to her outside the prison gates but refused to take a letter from her to her son.
She asked them if her son was undergoing a medical procedure and they said yes. She asked “if it was by force, and they said no” and told her, “Alaa is fine,” she told The Associated Press.
“I need proof for this. I don’t trust them,” she said. The family said in a statement that their lawyers were demanding information on the merits of the “medical intervention” and that Abdel-Fattah be immediately transferred to a civilian hospital.
At least 40 prisoners have died in Egyptian prisons this year, according to the al-Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. Among them was Alaa al Salmi, who died at the end of October after several weeks of hunger strike.
Abdel-Fattah, who has been in prison for most of the past decade, is serving a five-year sentence for spreading false news for retweeting a report in 2019 that another prisoner died in custody.
Abdel-Fattah rose to fame during the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings that swept the Middle East, toppling longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. His long imprisonment since 2011 has become a symbol of Egypt’s return to autocratic rule under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
He had been on a partial hunger strike of 100 calories a day for six months. He stopped all calorie intake and began refusing water on Sunday, the first day of the global climate summit held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Abdel-Fattah’s younger sister, Sanaa Seif, participated in the conference, in a bid to draw public attention to her case.
Egypt’s hosting of the event drew international attention to its heavy crackdown on political speech and activity. Since 2013, el-Sisi’s government has cracked down on dissent and critics, jailing thousands, virtually banning protests and monitoring social media.
At the Sharm el-Sheikh rally, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz raised the activist’s case during their talks with el-Sisi. Abdel-Fattah obtained British nationality through his London-born mother.
Speaking to the AP on Thursday at the climate conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry declined to answer questions about Abdel-Fattah and suggested some countries were using the issue to distract from pledges climatic.
“Other issues not directly related to the climate could distract and…give justification to those who might prefer to focus on other issues to avoid having to deal with what they have to. do, how they should implement their obligations and responsibilities,” he said.
“So again, it’s up to the parties to focus on the issues that are most important to them,” he said.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.