For the first time, the newly formed National Council for Human Rights has spoken publicly on the status of imprisoned activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who on Monday entered his 45th day on hunger strike in protest against harsh prison conditions and his deprivation of basic rights.
Council chair Moushira Khattab’s statement, released on Saturday, called on Abd El Fattah to bring his hunger strike to an end, said that Khattab has obtained assurances from authorities that he is not being deprived of any of his rights, and that she has submitted a request to visit Abd El Fattah in prison.
Abd El Fattah, who is being held in a maximum security facility at Tora Prison Complex, began a hunger strike in April as a last-ditch effort to secure the rights guaranteed to him by law and prison regulations, of which he has been deprived for over 30 months, said his aunt, novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
Soueif told Mada Masr on Sunday that she met with Khattab at the beginning of the hunger strike, and that Khattab promised to do everything in her power to fulfil the family’s demands.
The novelist expressed optimism, given that this is the first time the council has commented publicly on Abd El Fattah’s case, which Soueif said may indicate a willingness by various parties to put an end to the situation.
Abd El Fattah was arrested in September 2019 and beaten on arrival to prison. Over the course of his detention, his family have repeatedly complained about his being deprived of several rights guaranteed to prisoners by law, such as the right to exercise, access to books and newspapers, and owning a radio.
The NCHR statement, released on Saturday, came after a group of 500 detainees’ mothers submitted a petition to council chair Moushira Khattab, calling on her “to exert every possible effort” to ensure Abd El Fattah is transferred from the maximum-security prison he is in to a prison hospital, as his health continues to deteriorate due to the hunger strike.
Describing Khattab’s statement as “diplomatic,” Soueif told Mada Masr that it was not issued as a retort to the mothers’ petition, “but rather in support of it.” She described the statement as directed toward the authorities with the power to determine Abd El Fattah’s fate.
While the NCHR head said in the statement Abd El Fattah’s detention does not “deprive him or detract from his rights,” Khattab told the privately owned Al-Qahera Wal Nas television channel on Saturday evening that Abd El Fattah is asking for books, opportunities to exercise and for the the glass barrier that separates him from his mother when she visits to be removed.
Abd El Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, responded to Khattab’s television statement, highlighting in a post published on social media that her family have repeatedly complained of mistreatment, naming specific prison officials accused of assaulting Abd El Fattah in five separate incidents since January 2020 against whom the family has filed complaints to the Public Prosecution.
Two days before Khattab’s statement came out, Seif had stated that her brother was physically assaulted by the prison’s deputy warden after he requested that he be afforded his right to exercise outside his cell.
Abd El Fattah’s name was reportedly included among the lists of prisoners submitted to the recently relaunched presidential amnesty committee to be considered for release. However, a source in the committee who chose to remain anonymous told Mada Masr on Monday that Abd El Fattah will not be among those released this month, explaining that “the authorities concerned with the security review of detainees’ records” initially rejected him, along with imprisoned activist Ahmed Douma, classifying them as “troublemakers who do not comply with the prisons regulations.”
The matter will be out of these authorities’ hands, the source added, if the United Kingdom intervenes to negotiate the release of Abd El Fattah, who holds dual Egyptian-British citizenship.
Imprisoned since 2019, Abd El Fattah was arrested from a police station at which he was obliged to spend 12 hours a day as part of probationary measures following an earlier prison sentence. He remained in remand detention pending investigation into false news charges until the end of 2021, when he was sentenced to serve five years in prison. The two years he spent in remand detention will not count toward his sentence.