The sister of a British-Egyptian activist held in “inhumane” conditions as a political prisoner in Egypt said Boris Johnson could secure his release.
Sanaa Seif told Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews that she believes “a firm phone call” from the prime minister to Egyptian authorities would get her brother Alaa Abd El-Fattah out of prison.
Seif added that she is “confused” as to why she and other members of Abd El-Fattah’s family have not yet met with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in her campaign to free him.
Alaa Abd El-Fattah, with dual British-Egyptian citizenship, became a prominent pro-democracy activist during the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo in 2011 that led to the downfall of then-President Hosni Mubarak.
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He was recently sentenced to five years behind bars for sharing a Facebook post about human rights abuses in Egyptian prisons in 2019 and has been on a hunger strike since last month.
Abd El-Fattah has spent eight of the last ten years in prison.
Seif described being “in the moment of despair” but also “in the moment of possibility”.
“We need the foreign secretary and I’m confused. I don’t know why, because I can see there’s a lot of sympathy. I can see there’s support,” Seif told Sky News political editor Beth Rigby. .
“We’re always in touch with the embassy, so I’m confused as to why we haven’t met with the foreign secretary yet.”
Asked what she would ask the prime minister or the foreign secretary to help her brother, Seif continued: The Foreign Ministry would take Alaa away.
“I know we’ve seen it with the French, we’ve seen it with the Americans and we’ve heard it from other governments, we’ve heard it from the Germans and the Americans that they support it.
“They stand in solidarity with the British in this, in getting this, in bringing this home.”
Seif said she was “more hopeful than ever” that her brother would be released, but Abd El-Fattah “is not, unfortunately.”
“Alaa believes he will die in prison,” she told Sky News.
“I’m hopeful. I’m really hopeful. I think it’s easy, it’s simple if we get to the right people.
“I think there is precedence, we know the recipe for how to do it. The French did it, the US did it and the UK is definitely capable of doing it. It’s just a matter of doing it right.”
Seif added that the UK was able to ensure that British-Iranian prisoners Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were released in March despite having to negotiate with Iran, which is “a hostile country”.
Reflecting on her brother’s detention, she also described how Abd Ed-Fattah “became one of the regime’s main targets” in 2013 when the military took power in Egypt.
“For them, Alaa is just a symbol and a symbol that is inspiring to a young generation. So they attack Alaa and put him in prison to set an example with him,” Seif said.
“Alaa was sentenced to five years for a rally and a rally he didn’t organize,” she continued, adding, “He got out and then they arrested him again and put him on new charges for a Facebook post.
“A Facebook post he didn’t write, a Facebook post he shared about human rights violations happening in a prison.”
Seif said the last time he saw his brother was in March and he has been on a hunger strike for 75 days.
She added that her sister saw Abd El-Fattah last week and that he “looks very weak” and “like he’s just skin and bones”.
Last month, a group of lawmakers and colleagues wrote to the foreign secretary asking her to take steps to secure Abd El-Fattah’s release.
A letter to Truss signed by 10 lawmakers – including Labor Ben Bradshaw, Tory David Jones and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran – and 17 members of the House of Lords – says he is being held in “inhumane” conditions.
They said that Abd El-Fattah, the father of a 10-year-old son, was deprived of reading materials, exercise, sunlight or bedding for two and a half years.
The letter called on the government to “use all possible means” to secure Abd El-Fattah’s consular access, insist on immediate improvements in his conditions and his transfer out of the maximum security prison.
He also urged ministers to press for his release “in Egypt or the UK”.
Commenting after the letter was published, Foreign Secretary David Lammy said the treatment of Abd El-Fattah by the Egyptian authorities had become “increasingly cruel and degrading”.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The UK government continues to raise the case of Alaa Abd El-Fattah at the highest levels of the Egyptian government.
“We are urgently working to secure consular access to Mr. Abd El-Fattah. We are also concerned about reports that he is on an ongoing hunger strike.
“The well-being of detained British citizens remains a high priority.”