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Alaa Abd El-Fattah’s Sister Speaks Out at U.N. Climate Summit as Pressure Grows on Egypt to Free Him

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The family of the imprisoned Egyptian dissident Alaa Abd El-Fattah says they no longer know if he is still alive or if he is being force-fed, more than 50 hours after he stopped drinking water in an intensification of a six-month hunger strike. We feature an address by Alaa’s sister Sanaa Seif at the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. “The symbolic battle has been won by your show of support,” says Seif. “I just hope his body and he is not sacrificed for it.”

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StoryNov 14, 2022“No Climate Justice Without Human Rights”: Groups Protest Inaction, Repression at U.N. Summit in Egypt
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Egypt at the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, where climate justice activists are calling on the Egyptian government to free Alaa Abd El-Fattah, one of Egypt’s best-known political prisoners. Alaa has been on hunger strike for six months, stopped drinking water Sunday as the U.N. climate summit began in Egypt. He has now gone over 50 hours without water. His family says they no longer know if he’s still alive or if he’s being force-fed. The family is also appealing to the British government for help since Alaa has British citizenship, as well as his Egyptian citizenship.

Just before our broadcast, Alaa’s sister Sanaa Seif spoke at a news conference inside the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

SANAA SEIF: Hello, and thank you very much for the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice for the support and for hosting me. My family and I have been so moved to see the huge support that Alaa has had from climate organizations from across the world. I hope that one day we can repay you, really. It’s heartwarming.

At this conference, the most vulnerable are supposed to negotiate with the most powerful. So I want to say that whatever chance my brother has at surviving will come from people who are vulnerable. It will come from those paying the price for others’ luxury, from those locked into a system they did not choose.

Although this has been the most difficult time my family has ever faced, whatever happens, I feel like Alaa has won the cause. The symbolic battle has been won by your show of support. I just hope his body and he is not sacrificed for it.

He’s not in prison for the Facebook post they charged him with. He’s in prison because he’s someone who makes people believe the world can be a better place. He’s someone trying to make the world a better place.

And if he could see everything that so many people have done for him, he would be comforted that he’s right. I know he would be very happy. So, we have not yet been defeated.

But right now all we know is that Alaa stopped drinking water 50 hours ago. We don’t know where he is. We don’t know if he’s alive. My mother waited outside the prison gates for 10 hours yesterday for her weekly letter. They didn’t give her one. She’s back at those gates right now. I asked the British authorities to get us some proof that Alaa is alive and conscious; I did not get any response.

Right here in this conference center, the Egyptian foreign minister — who is also the COP president — has been giving interviews saying there is nothing to worry about and that the prison have medical facilities. President Sisi made a commitment to President Macron that Alaa’s health will be preserved.

And these statements really worry me. Are they force-feeding my brother right now? Is he handcuffed in a bed, put on IVs against his will? This is what it sounds like to me when they say “preserve his health” but not acknowledge his hunger strike and not allow consular access.

For the entire time Alaa has been on a hunger strike, the prison refused to allow him an independent medical examination. They forged a fake medical report in July without examining him. They said he “has access” to three meals a day while he was on hunger strike. I don’t trust them. My brother doesn’t trust them, and he repeatedly refused their medical examination, demanding that an observer from his lawyers or the British Consulate be present. This demand was never accepted.

This is a man who has denied himself food for seven months because he wants to meet with his embassy. It’s a very simple ask. Just let the embassy access. If that’s — so, to tell me that he could now be handcuffed to a bed being force-fed, that this is some kind of a solution, is grotesque. If that’s the case, then he has been plunged into an even worse nightmare than he was already in.

We know that they’re happy for him to die. The only thing they care about is that it doesn’t happen while the world is watching. But the world is watching. And it’s not only watching the Egyptian authorities; it’s also watching other governments, including the U.K. government and other Western governments complicit in our oppression, who benefit from our oppression. Everyone always talks about how strong the U.K. and Egypt relationship is. Is torturing a dual citizen part of that strong relationship?

This has to end. It can end. There are three ways for it to end: Let the British Embassy visit him, or put him on a plane out of Egypt today, or he will die, he will be relieved of this nightmare. But Alaa shouldn’t be forced anything against his will.

I would also like to remind that my family’s ordeal is — it’s an extreme example, but it’s not the only example. There are tens of thousands of political prisoners in Egypt. There are more around the world. Climate activists get arrested, kidnapped in Latin America. We face the same kind of oppression, and our cause is one. And I’m really, really thankful to your solidarity.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sanaa Seif speaking inside the U.N. climate summit today in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, just before we went to broadcast, about her imprisoned brother Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who is 40 years old.

Moments later, an Egyptian member of Parliament, Amr Darwish, attempted to disrupt the press conference. Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said the attempt to derail the press conference gives a, quote, “small sense of the regime of fears and silencing in the country right now,” unquote.

Earlier in the news conference, the British climate activist Asad Rehman spoke on the need for international solidarity for Alaa Abd El-Fattah.

ASAD REHMAN: Here at COP27, civil society constituencies representing thousands of organizations and hundreds of millions of people from around the world, from the environmental, trade union, women and Indigenous groups, are standing in support and with Alaa, as we have done with all those who have been murdered for fighting and dreaming for a better world, from Berta Cáceres in Honduras, Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria and Chut Wutty in Cambodia. …

So, on behalf of U.K. movements, we have a message to the U.K. government and to the prime minister, Rishi Sunak: Whilst the Egyptian authorities may have put Alaa into a prison cell, the key to his release rests in your hands. This is a matter of life and death, of justice, of human rights. We will not accept any government, including the U.K. government, prioritizing arms sales and trade deals over the lives of our people.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s British climate activist Asad Rehman at the U.N. climate summit, known as COP27, which is currently taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

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