SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to answer questions about the fate of British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah after delivering a speech at the UN’s climate conference, COP27, in Egypt.
As Sunak left the stage after delivering a speech at the summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, VICE World News repeatedly asked the Prime Minister if he would be demanding el-Fattah’s release during his visit to Egypt, including in meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the UK’s ally.
However, Sunak was rushed away by colleagues without making a comment.
This week world leaders began arriving in Sharm El-Sheikh for the launch of COP27. More than 300 miles away outside the capital Cairo, el-Fattah escalated months of a hunger strike by completely giving up food and water to protest 9 years in detention.
Supporters of the jailed writer have been eager to get an update on his health, and on Monday morning his mother, Laila Soueif, travelled from her home in Cairo to the prison where she’s allowed to receive a weekly letter from her son. After waiting 10 hours outside the prison and pleading with staff, she received no letter from el-Fattah.
In a comment to VICE World News, el-Fattah’s family said: “The weekly letter is the one proof of life we were counting on. And now it hasn’t happened. We don’t know what this means but it’s cause for serious concern. Is he still inside? Is he conscious? We have no idea now and are very very worried.”
In addition to being an Egyptian citizen, el-Fattah is also British. And on the 18th of October, in the lead up to COP27, his sister, Sanaa Seif, began a sit-in outside the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, hoping to pressure the British government to pressure el-Sisi to release her brother from prison.
Sunak, who took office last month, released a letter before travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh in support of el-Fattah saying that the UK government was “deeply committed to doing everything we can to resolve Alaa’s case as soon as possible.”
But since arriving in Egypt to attend COP27, Sunak has publicly been tight-lipped and avoided talking to reporters.
His office released a statement saying that he had raised el-Fattah’s case during a meeting with the Egyptian President on Monday and that Sunak “hoped to see this resolved as soon as possible.”