British-Egyptian, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is one of over 60,000 political prisoners held in Egypt, is currently on hunger strike to pressure the Egyptian authorities to grant him communication rights with British embassy officials. Having been granted British citizenship earlier this year through his British-born mother, Abdel Fattah’s family are calling on Egypt to recognise his dual nationality and release him immediately.
Abdel Fattah is a pro-democracy activist and is currently being held captive in Egypt serving a five-year sentence on charges of alleged ‘spreading false news on Facebook, a charge which human rights organisations are condemning. This charge has been used frequently by the Egyptian authorities against activists and those perceived to be dissidents of the state. Despite standing trial, Abdel Fattah’s lawyers did not have access to the case files, indicating that Abdel Fattah was not given a fair and just trial. This is just one of the many reasons why human rights groups are calling for Abdel Fattah to be released.
Last week, Abdel Fattah’s sister Sanaa Seif, published an article in the Guardian calling on UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak to intervene to obtain her brother’s release, she emotively writes that Rishi Sunak is her brother’s ‘last hope’. Also bravely stating that she travelled back to Egypt to campaign for his release, despite being at risk of being imprisoned again herself. She goes on to write that it is an international humiliation that the UK government are standing by allowing the Egyptian government to treat British citizens with such brutality. Subjugating them to the cruel in-prison treatment of torture, forced feeding, and rejecting their basic requests for a fair and just trial.
Abdel Fattah is certainly not the first dual national to be held prisoner abroad. Early this year, Liz Truss, the then foreign secretary under Boris Johnson’s government managed to obtain the release of two British-Iranian political prisoners held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori who had been held captive by the Islamic Republic regime since 2016 and 2017, respectively. Despite Liz Truss claiming all the credit for their release, it was, without doubt, the devoted campaigning and activism of their respective families, and condemnation by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International which granted the release of these two British nationals.
UK and Egypt Relations:
On the 7th of November, Rishi Sunak met Egypt’s president and later said that he had raised Abdel Fattah’s detainment, but that something had come of the talks in regard to Abdel Fattah’s release.
The previous UK ambassador to Egypt has said that it is crucial that Rishi Sunak’s government mobilise to put maximum pressure on the Egyptian government and show that they are committed to bringing Abdel Fattah to the UK. They also state that the UK government must make it clear that Abdel Fattah’s release is a defining issue of UK-Egypt relations, and not something that will be put on the back burner. He also writes that the Foreign Office should focus on what has proven to get results, by setting out long-term consequences on trade and investment so Egypt sees that its authoritarianism and human rights violations will not be normalised.
Therefore, it is a crucial time for Rishi Sunak to prove himself to not be just all hat and no cattle. He must remain committed to free not just Abdel Fattah, but many dual nationals held hostage by totalitarian governments every year. Including British-Iranian national Morad Tahbaz who is held in Iran’s notoriously brutal Evin prison for political prisoners in Tehran. His family have campaigned since 2018 to bring Mr Tahbaz home, but the UK government continues to demonstrate that it is willing to be intimidated by these brutal authoritarian regimes.
If Britain aims to stand up to these totalitarian governments, it must have a concrete foreign policy and understand it’s a global power able to use its authority to obtain the release of its nationals abroad. Arguably, the UK government right now is showing that they do not value the rights and freedom of dual nations, the way that it values British-born citizens. It is a great shame, and it must take serious steps to protect the rights of all its citizens.
Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.
References/ Further Reading: