Image: #FreeAlaa Campaign

Alaa Abdel-Fattah’s life at serious risk: demand Egypt immediately release him now!

As the world attention turns to COP27 in Egypt, amidst fears of greenwashing Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s authoritarian regime, Access Now calls on government representatives attending COP27 to do everything in their power to ensure the immediate release of British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, and all human rights defenders and political prisoners detained for exercising their fundamental rights.

Read in Arabic / للقراءة بالعربية

Alaa Abdel-Fattah is a British-Egyptian writer, human rights defender and software developer. He was one of the leading voices and campaigners during the 25 January 2011 revolution. He has been published in numerous outlets; is well-known for founding a prominent Arabic blog aggregator; and has been involved in a number of citizen journalism initiatives. His book, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, which compiles some of his deeply influential writings, has received widespread acclaim.

Alaa has been arrested under every Egyptian head of state during his lifetime. He is currently in detention following an unfair trial on spurious charges that relate to his human rights advocacy. On 2 April 2022, Alaa embarked on an open-ended hunger strike as a last bid for freedom. After more than 200 days of partial hunger strike, Alaa announced that, as of 1 November 2022, he is stopping his previous 100-calorie intake and moving to a full hunger strike. Alaa also decided that on 6 November 2022, coinciding with the beginning of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, he will start a water strike. This means that if he is not released, Alaa will die before the end of COP27.

If one wished for death then a hunger strike would not be a struggle. If one were only holding onto life out of instinct then what’s the point of a strike? If you’re postponing death only out of shame at your mother’s tears then you’re decreasing the chances of victory….I’ve taken a decision to escalate at a time I see as fitting for my struggle for my freedom and the freedom of prisoners of a conflict they’ve no part in, or they’re trying to exit from; for the victims of a regime that’s unable to handle its crises except with oppression, unable to reproduce itself except through incarceration” – Alaa wrote in a letter to his family announcing escalation of his hunger strike.

On 31 October 2022, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment said, In advance of COP27, I am joining the chorus of global voices calling for the immediate release of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, an Egyptian activist who has languished in jail for years merely for voicing his opinion. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite for climate justice!

We, the undersigned organisations and groups:

  1. Call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  2. Call on the British authorities to intervene to secure the release of their fellow citizen Alaa Abdel Fattah so that he be allowed to travel to the UK, as his health is deteriorating to a critical and life-threatening point
  3. Call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to publicly reiterate its call on Egypt to immediately release Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed el-Baqer, and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  4. Call on UN Special Procedures to publicly reiterate their call on Egypt to immediately release Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed el-Baqer and Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim Radwan and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  5. Call on all government leaders and business leaders going to COP27 to use all possible leverage and urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  6. Call on civil society organisations, groups and activists going to COP27 to urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights

Signatories (updated on a rolling basis):

  1. 10 Votes
  2. Aberdeen Climate Action
  3. Access Now
  4. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
  5. African Earth Farms
  6. Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man
  7. ALQST for Human Rights
  8. Amazon Watch
  9. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
  10. Amnesty International
  11. Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)
  12. Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED)
  13. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  14. Bisan Center for Research and Development
  15. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  16. Campaign against Climate Change
  17. Center for Environment/FoE Bosnia and Herzegovina
  18. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  19. Committee for Justice
  20. Commonwealth Youth Peace Advocates Network Kenya
  21. Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE)
  22. Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia)
  23. CRAN (Carrefour de réflexion et d’actions contre le racisme anti-Noir-e) -Observatoire du racisme anti-Noir-e
  24. Debt for Climate South Africa
  25. DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture
  26. Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
  27. Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF)
  28. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  29. EgyptWide for Human Rights
  30. Eko forum Zenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
  31. El Nadim Center
  32. English PEN
  33. EuroMed Rights
  34. Extinction Rebellion Oxford
  35. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  36. Freedom House
  37. Friends of the Earth Malta
  38. Friends of the Earth Scotland
  39. Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
  40. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  41. Hijas de Alkebulan
  42. Human Rights Watch
  43. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
  44. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  45. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
  46. Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms
  47. Iraqi Human Rights Defenders and Activist Forum
  48. MARBE SA
  49. MENA Rights Group
  50. National Authority for the Prevention of Torture
  51. National Lawyers Guild International Committee
  52. National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
  53. PEN America
  54. PEN International
  55. People in Need
  56. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
  57. Refugees Platform in Egypt ( RPE )
  58. Rising Clyde
  59. Sinai Foundation for Human Rights (SFHR)
  60. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  61. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
  62. Terra Advocati
  63. The Center for International Policy
  64. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  65. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
  66. Unite Scotland
  67. Université populaire africaine (UPAF)
  68. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
  69. War on Want
  70. West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network/Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (WAHRDN/ROADDH)
  71. WHRDMENA Coalition
  72. WomanHealth Philippines
  73. World Organisation Against Torture, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  74. Yorkshire and Humber Climate Justice Coalition

Background information: On 29 September 2019, Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested while fulfilling his probation requirements at El-Dokki Police Station. He was questioned before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) on charges of joining an illegal organisation, receiving foreign funding, spreading false news, and misusing social media; he was then ordered into pretrial detention pending case no. 1356 of 2019. On the same day, Alaa’s lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer attended Alaa’s interrogation and was similarly arrested, questioned before the SSSP, and ordered into pretrial detention pending the same case and arbitrary charges. During their pretrial detention Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer were arbitrarily added to Egypt’s terrorist list in relation to a separate case (no. 1781 of 2019), for which they have never been questioned or given the right to defend themselves. As a result of this designation, they face a travel ban, asset freeze, and for el-Baqer, potential disbarment as a lawyer. On 20 December 2021, following an unfair trial before a State security emergency court, in which they were denied their right to due process (defense lawyers were denied the right to present a defense on behalf of their clients, and denied permission to copy the case files), Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison, and el-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim Radwan to four years in prison on charges of “spreading false news”. Verdicts from such courts cannot be appealed. The time they spent in pretrial detention pending the original case ( No. 1356 of 2019) will not count as time served toward the December 2021 prison sentences, and the verdict is final since it has subsequently been ratified by President Al-Sisi. Further details here.

Preparations for COP27 are taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing and deep-rooted human rights crisis in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities have for years employed draconian laws, including laws on counter terrorism, cyber crimes, and civil society, to stifle all forms of peaceful dissent and shut down civic space. Under the current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained without a legal basis, following grossly unfair trials, or solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. Thousands are held in prolonged pre-trial detention on the basis of spurious terrorism and national security accusations. Among those arbitrarily detained are dozens of journalists targeted for their media work, social media users punished for sharing critical online content, women convicted on morality-related charges for making Tik Tok videos, and members of religious minorities accused of blasphemy. Prisoners are held in detention conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, and since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power hundreds have died in custody amid reports of denial of healthcare and other abuses. Egypt remains one of the world’s top executioners, executing 107 people in 2020 and 83 in 2021, with at least 356 people sentenced to death in 2021, many following grossly unfair trials including by emergency courts. The crisis of impunity has emboldened Egyptian security forces to carry out extra-judicial executions and other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture with no fear of consequences.