COP27 Live News: UN leader warns of ‘climate hell’ as talks open in Egypt
SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt — World leaders, government negotiators, climate scientists and other dignitaries probably won’t see his name anywhere in Sharm el-Sheikh, the beach town hosting the COP27 summit. But Alaa Abd El FattahEgypt’s most prominent revolutionary voice and its most famous political prisoner, makes his absence felt.
Mr. Abd El Fattah, an activist and software developer who has been jailed for most of the past nine years for his condemnations of Egypt’s authoritarian government, went on hunger strike in April, hoping to pressure officials to release him. For almost seven months, he only consumes milk, honey and tea. In late October, his family said he stopped eating completely.
On Sunday, he began refusing water, perhaps coming close to death just as the United Nations climate conference began.
“I have decided to escalate at a time when I feel it is appropriate for my fight for my freedom and the freedom” of other Egyptian prisoners of conscience, family members of Mr. Abd El Fatah said he wrote to them in his latest letter, which they received last week. He called his fellow prisoners “victims of a regime that is unable to deal with its crisis except through oppression, unable to reproduce itself except through prison.”
The spotlight of COP27 provided an opportunity for supporters of Mr. Abd El Fatah. The government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, mindful of its international image, released dozens of other well-known political prisoners as the summit approached. Sensing a chance, the family of Mr. Abd El Fataha has enlisted Nobel laureates, celebrities and prominent climate activists to call for his release and pressure senior politicians in Britain, where he holds dual citizenship, to raise the issue with the Egyptian government.
But it was all for naught: Egyptian officials denied that Mr. Abd El Fatah was on hunger strike, or, until recently, that they held any political prisoners at all.
Earlier this year, Egyptian authorities transferred him to another prison and improved his detention conditions, lifting strict bans on books, newspapers, hot water, bedding and outdoor exercise, which in part led to his hunger strike. However, they continued to ban British consular officials from visiting.
The political chaos in Britain, which has had three prime ministers since September, has not helped. The new British leader, Rishi Sunak, wrote in a letter to Sanaa Seif, one of Mr Abd El Fatah’s sisters, on Saturday that he would “continue to emphasize to President Sisi the importance we place on a swift resolution of Alaa’s case, and an end to his unacceptable treatment.”
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson again called on Monday for Mr. Abd El Fattah set free. “I strongly believe that he should be released and have consular access,” Mr Johnson said at an event organized by The New York Times on the sidelines of COP27.
But Ms. Seif and her family said that presenting the case to Mr. Abd El Fatah at COP27 could be too late.
Born in a family of dissidents, Mr. Abd El Fatah rose to prominence during Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising, when he participated in and regularly wrote about mass anti-government protests on Twitter @Alaa. His revolutionary activities made him a hero to many young Egyptians and a target of the authorities: he was arrested in 2006, 2011 and 2013 for various protests, critical articles and social media posts. His last detention was in September 2019.
He was held without trial for two years before being tried and was quickly convicted in December 2021 for posting on Facebook about prison abuses.
Max Bearak contributed to the reporting.
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