Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah’s health worsens in Egyptian prison

Egypt’s human rights body calls for the activist’s transfer to a better facility, as Abdel Fattah’s family calls for his release.

Activist Alaa Abdel Fattah speaks in front of a judge at a court during his trial in Cairo
An Egyptian human rights group has urged authorities to transfer the imprisoned activist Alaa Abd El Fattah to another detention centre with better health facilities [File: Reuters/Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper]

An Egyptian government-appointed human rights body has urged the country’s authorities to transfer the imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to another detention centre with better health facilities, as his condition deteriorates.

The head of the National Human Rights Council, Moushira Khattab, appealed to the Egyptian interior minister on Tuesday for Abdel Fattah, who has been on hunger strike since April 2 in protest against prison conditions and assaults by prison guards, to be transferred to Wadi al-Natrun Reform and Rehabilitation Centre.

Khattab said the recently opened detention complex had “advanced medical capacities” and “excellent care available in its medical centre”.

Khattab’s statement did not refer or allude to the hunger strike that Abdel Fattah began at a maximum security facility in the Tora Prison Complex.

Blogger and software engineer Abdel Fattah is one of Egypt’s best-known activists, rising to prominence during Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising. He was sentenced in October 2021 to five years in prison on charges of spreading false news.

Khattab previously said on Saturday, in her first public statement on Abdel Fattah’s hunger strike, that she had asked to be allowed to visit the activist in prison, and added that she urged him to end his hunger strike.

The National Human Rights Council has previously been accused of lacking independence from the Egyptian government.

Abd El Fattah’s aunt, renowned novelist Ahdaf Soueif, told the Egyptian outlet Mada Masr that the family have not been able to confirm whether the activist remains in Tora prison or has been transferred to another facility.

The activist’s sister, Mona Seif, posted on Facebook on Monday that her brother’s health was deteriorating due to his hunger strike, and that he continues to live under harsh prison conditions and faces mistreatment by authorities.

Seif also pushed back against suggestions from Egyptian authorities that Abdel Fattah was not on hunger strike. His relatives have stressed that prison authorities refuse to acknowledge or officially address Abdel Fattah’s hunger strike, and have denied him the medical care and supervision he needs while holding him in solitary confinement.

“Why prevent the UK consular visit for months and prevent them from bearing witness to your exemplary prisons?” Seif added in another Facebook post.

Abd El Fattah received UK citizenship in April and requested that both British and Egyptian judicial authorities intervene to investigate abuses against him in prison.

Civil society groups – including Access Now, Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty UK, English PEN, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation – have called on the British government to assist him.

“There’s a lot of important efforts by civil society to connect with [other] civil society groups internationally to bring Alaa’s case to the attention of officials in the capitals of many countries that consider Egypt a friend,” said Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a think-tank based in Washington, DC.

“Unfortunately a lot of governments have been reluctant to exercise pressure on this issue. There’s modest criticism here and there,” he told Al Jazeera.

Abdel Fattah was arrested in September 2019, and since then he has been kept in a cell without sunlight, deprived of exercise, access to books and newspapers, and a radio. Abdel Fattah was also beaten on multiple occasions during his imprisonment, including on the day of his arrival in prison.

Abdel Fattah had only been out of prison for a few months at the time of his arrest, having been released after a five-year sentence for organising protests in March 2019.

Abdel Fattah’s open-ended hunger strike involves him ingesting only water and a salt solution.

“His well-being is under a lot of strain and he is isolated, given his lack of access to even reading materials, and I think it’s deliberate on the part of the Egyptian government to continue to punish him and try to break him,” Kaldas said.

Human rights organisations have criticised Abdel Fattah’s trial and conviction, saying there were numerous violations.

Egyptian authorities have previously dismissed accusations over prison conditions and said they are working to modernise the detention system.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies