Egypt puts activist on hunger strike for medical treatment

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CAIRO (AP) — The family of jailed Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah demanded information about his condition after prison authorities told them on Thursday he was undergoing an undefined medical procedure and blocked a lawyer from to see him.

The dramatic developments came days after Abdel-Fattah stepped up his hunger strike and stopped drinking water.

One of Abdel-Fattah’s sisters, Sanaa Seif, called on President Joe Biden to intervene on his case when he met with the Egyptian president on Friday on the sidelines of the annual UN climate conference in Sharm el. -Sheikh. The family expressed fears that authorities are force-feeding Abdel-Fattah, who wrote to his family that he was ready to die in the strike unless he was released.

“I’m really scared,” she said. “I don’t know for sure (what happened), but I imagine Alaa is handcuffed somewhere. He was put on an IV against his will.

“Please find a solution,” she said, addressing the Egyptian government. “Our loss will be the biggest. It’s not good for anyone. Why is this happening? Why has it gone this far?

His mother, Laila Soueif, said she found it hard to imagine the authorities would actually let her son go after years of ordeal.

“I think there’s a good chance he won’t come out and he won’t be safe,” she told The Associated Press. “So I can’t really imagine (a time) after.”

Abdel-Fattah, who has been imprisoned for most of the past decade, had consumed minimal calories for months but stopped all food and water intake on Sunday, the first day of the climate conference, known as COP27.

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.

But so far, Egyptian officials have shown no signs of backing down. On the contrary, they tried to portray Abdel-Fattah as not being on a hunger strike at all. Late Thursday, Egypt’s public prosecutor issued a statement, saying a medical team examined Abdel-Fattah after receiving a complaint from him on November 1 and that he was found to be in stable condition. The statement does not specify when exactly the exams took place, or at what stage of his hunger or water strike, only that Abdel-Fattah voluntarily underwent them.

The nature of the most recent medical intervention was also not immediately known, and it was unclear whether he had been transferred to a prison hospital. At the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard expressed alarm and called for independent medical care for Abdel-Fattah.

“Why? Because the prison system in Egypt is abysmal in its treatment, the medical treatment of prisoners,” she said.

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.

A lawyer for the family, Khaled Ali, said prison officials refused to allow him to visit Abdel-Fattah despite the prosecutor’s office’s approval for the visit. He said Home Office officials told him the approval was not valid as it was dated Wednesday, adding in a tweet that he was not informed of the approval until Thursday morning .

Abdel-Fattah is serving a five-year sentence for spreading false news for sharing a Facebook post about a prisoner who died in custody in 2019.

Soueif, his mother, has been waiting every day this week outside the prison complex in Wadi el-Natrun, in the desert north of Cairo, looking for evidence of her son’s life. She said Thursday that prison officials spoke to her outside the prison gates but refused to bring her a letter.

She asked them if he 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 AP.

“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.

“You have to take into account that in this country things don’t go as planned, (there is) ignorance and incompetence, they could kill him without wanting to kill him,” Soueif said.

Abdel-Fattah rose to fame during the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings that swept the Middle East, toppling longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He was imprisoned several times and spent a total of nine years behind bars, becoming a symbol of Egypt’s return to even more autocratic rule under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Egypt’s hosting of the climate summit 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.

Speaking to the AP on Thursday at the conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry declined to answer questions about Abdel-Fattah and suggested some countries were using the issue to distract from climate commitments.

“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.

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