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Three Egyptian journalists said Monday they had begun hunger strikes to demand authorities free Alaa Abdel Fattah, a jailed political dissident who has been refusing food and now water too. online news
British-Egyptian Abdel Fattah, 40, a major figure in the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak, stopped drinking water on Sunday to coincide with the opening of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.
“We have stopped eating now because Alaa Abdel Fattah is in danger of dying,” journalist Mona Selim told AFP during a sit-in at the journalists’ union in Cairo.
She was speaking alongside Eman Ouf and Racha Azab, the two colleagues who have gone on hunger strike with her.
Selim said that the three are also demanding the “liberation of all prisoners of conscience” in Egypt.
They number more than 60,000 in Egypt, according to rights groups — jailed under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, before being elected the following year.
After a seven-month hunger strike during which he consumed only “100 calories a day”, Alaa Abdel Fattah has refused food altogether since last Tuesday.
On Sunday he launched a “water strike”, said his sister Sanaa Seif, who on Monday travelled to Sharm el-Sheikh where world leaders arrived for the COP27.
Not a lot of time
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said Abdel Fattah’s plight is “a priority”, and in a letter to the activist’s sister strongly suggested that his case will be discussed at the summit.
Speaking to journalists at the climate summit, Sunak said: “I am hoping to see President Sisi later today. I will, of course, raise this issue.”
“It’s something that not just the United Kingdom but many countries want to see resolved,” he added.
Activists at COP27 have posted prolifically on Twitter under the hashtag #FreeAlaa and several speakers have ended their speeches with the words “you have not yet been defeated” — the title of his book, prefaced by Canadian author Naomi Klein.
“There is not a lot of time — 72 hours at best,” Amnesty International chief Agnes Callamard said in Cairo on Sunday, referring to Alaa Abdel Fattah’s possible remaining lifespan.
She urged Egypt to release him and said that, “if they don’t, that death will be in every single discussion in this COP”.
Abdel Fattah has since late last year been serving a five-year sentence for “broadcasting false news”, having already spent much of the past decade behind bars.
In Lebanon’s capital Beirut, around 100 people protested against his detention near the British embassy, an AFP photographer reported.
Abdel Fattah “embodies the Arab world’s fight against repressive authorities in the past 12-13 years,” said journalist Diana Moukalled.
“We are gathering today to raise our voice and demand the release of Alaa and thousands of other political detainees in Egypt and other Arab countries,” she said.
Abdel Fattah’s continued detention comes despite Egypt having granted presidential pardons to a total of 766 political prisoners since the reactivation of a pardon policy in April this year, according to data compiled by Amnesty.
But over this period 1,540 political dissidents have also been put behind bars, Amnesty says.
The group Reporters Without Borders, in its 2022 World Press Freedom Index, ranked Egypt 168 out of 180 countries.
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