[The following statement from the co-editors of Jadaliyya comes after the escalation of Egyptian political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah's hunger strike to include a refusal to drink water, coinciding with the UN COP27 Climate Summit being hosted in Egypt. Jadaliyya's co-editors join the voices of many scholars, journalists, activists, and politicians in demanding the freedom of Alaa Abdel Fattah and all political prisoners in Egypt.]
The co-editors of Jadaliyya call on the Government of Egypt to immediately release author, blogger, software developer, and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has languished in its prisons for almost a decade. Alaa has been on a hunger strike for over 220 days and a water strike for the past 4 days. He is currently at risk of dying in custody in Wadi El Natrun prison.
Alaa Abdel Fattah is a prominent activist and prolific writer whose most recent collection of political writings, entitled You Have Not Yet Been Defeated was published in April 2022, while the author was incarcerated, to widespread acclaim. That same month, Alaa started a partial hunger strike, with minimal calorie-intake. On 1 November, with his health already fragile, Alaa escalated his hunger strike. On November 6, the first day of the UN climate summit (COP27) currently under way in Egypt, he additionally stopped drinking water.
More than a decade ago, the Egyptian government repeatedly arrested Alaa on account of his activism related to human rights violations by Egyptian security forces, including the trial of civilians in military courts [See Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) press release for more information]. In 2015, an Egyptian court sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment. Alaa was released in March 2019, only to be re-arrested six months later. He was held in pre-trial detention for two years before a court in December 2021 handed down a second sentence of five years’ imprisonment, this time on the charge of publishing false news shared in a Facebook post. His co-defendants, human rights lawyer Mohamed Al-Baqer and journalist Mohamed Ibrahim, were each sentenced to three years in prison.
The Egyptian authorities have blatantly violated human rights laws as well as basic principles of due process, fair trial, and humane treatment. In arresting, detaining, prosecuting, convicting, and imprisoning Alaa, the Egyptian government has additionally violated its own laws and constitution by denying Alaa Abdel Fattah legal counsel, infringing on his ability to communicate with his family, and undermining his rights to access information, health care, and support from loved ones. Since his water strike began on 6 November 2022, there has been no communication from him or information regarding his health and well-being from any government authority.
Since November 6 calls for Alaa Abdel Fattah's freedom have reverberated around the world. Among these, fifteen Nobel prize laureates have signed a letter calling attention to his plight and demanding his immediate release: “Alaa has spent the last 10 years-a quarter of his life-in prison, for words he has written,” the letter reads. “As Nobel laureates, we believe in the world-changing power of words – and the need to defend them if we are to build a more sustainable, genuinely fairer future.”
As scholars, academics, writers, and activists working in and on the region, we are cognizant of the Egyptian government’s extensive, broad and ruthless attack against intellectuals and researchers in the country (MESA Committee on Academic Freedom Statement). Given the track record of the government in the detention and treatment of its critics, we are deeply concerned about Alaa Abdel Fattah’s well-being. We demand his immediate, unconditional release, as well as that of his co-defendants Mohamed Al-Baqer and Mohamed Ibrahim. While Alaa remains the most high profile political detainee in Egypt, his plight is shared by tens of thousands of incarcerated persons in Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s prison system without a modicum of meaningful legal process. We therefore call for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Egypt.